Name: Nick Schmidt
DOB: October 10, 1985
A first-round pick in 2007, Schmidt has been an afterthought in the prospect process.
After surrendering five runs across seven innings on eight hits and six walks while fanning six for the Fort Wayne Wizards, Schmidt saw his season – and the subsequent year – come to a disturbing end.
The flare up seemed to occur in that final outing on July 27 when he walked three and gave up four hits in two innings.
"It was disappointing, but, at the same time, it was almost a blessing that it happened early in my career and not when I am on the verge of getting to the show," Schmidt said. "You can look at it both ways, but I am looking at it as a blessing."
Surgery followed and Schmidt has been on the road to recovery ever since. He missed all of 2008 and was just seeing live action at the end of the Padres Instructional League.
"Schmidt has come along well," pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said. "He was pitching by the end of instructional league. He looked great in the bullpen, he's feeling really good, he's in great shape, and the arm's coming along just like it should."
As evidenced by Cesar Carrillo in his recovery process, the first year back can be thrown away. It is about staying healthy in 2009 with an eye on 2010 to see his true talent.
"Schmidt has been very, very good," vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "There haven't been any setbacks."
If his college career has any bearing on how he will perform, there is reason for optimism.
The Missouri native racked up 11 wins in his final year at Arkansas, which is tied for the third highest in school history, during his 2007 collegiate season. He also tied the school record with 124 innings pitched and finished with a .196 opponent batting average, which led the Southeastern Conference.
That earned him the 23rd overall selection in the draft by San Diego.
As a sophomore, Schmidt won SEC Pitcher of the Year honors after going 9-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 116.2 innings.
Schmidt finished his college career as the Razorbacks all-time strikeout leader (345) while ranking second with 52 career starts and third with 28 wins in 340.1 innings pitched. He also ranks second and tied for fifth in single-season strikeouts after striking out 145 in 2006 and 111 in 2007.
A two-time first-team All-SEC selection by league coaches, Schmidt earned back-to-back All-American honors as a first-team selection in 2006 and a second-team choice in 2007.
There were some who say he was predisposed to have an injury. That seems hard to buy. There is simply no way of accurately predicting injury, regardless of the violence in a delivery.
San Diego was cautious with his use after marching out for 124 innings this past season. Another 30-40 innings would have seen him capped, but he managed just seven.
And it seems the injury was ready to blow the minute he stepped into a professional uniform. His fastball was up in the zone in Midwest League play, an uncharacteristic trait for a kid that has always kept the opposition at bay and misses more off the corners and down than up.
"He has four pitches and has performed at the highest level," Fuson said.
The 6-foot-5 lefty hurls a fastball that ranges from 88 to 90 MPH, topping out a 92 MPH. He works the corners with his heater and generally has good command down in the zone.
"I pitch off my fastball and get guys out by pitching inside," said Schmidt.
The equalizer, however, is a pitch the Padres stress at all levels. Schmidt comes into the organization having already mastered a plus-changeup that keeps hitters off-balance. It is a pitch Schmidt goes to when he needs an out.
"I do consider it my best pitch and favorite pitch to throw because I feel I have command of it better than my other pitches," Schmidt admitted.
He also mixes in a slider with good tilt – a pitch that will need refinement as he works his way back to game shape.
While he can throw the changeup for strikes, the slider is not a pitch he goes to when he finds himself behind in the count, allowing hitters to sit on his fastball. If he misses out on a first-pitch strike, Schmidt believes he has to be fine and will miss the corners of the plate looking for the perfect strike so he does not get burned.
"Everybody I talk to goes, ‘You've got a good one there," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said. "‘Wait ‘til you see this stuff.'" How will the feel of the changeup return? It is a big question mark for a player that used it as his main weapon to get hitters rolling over.
As with Carrillo, command will also be an issue. His fastball will be hittable as he regains velocity but will that hinder the mental portion of his game and how he attacks hitters with confidence?
Conclusion: A bit of an unknown quantity. The Padres figured he would be on the verge of a call up to San Diego in the coming year, but he will be just starting his career.
With a delicate workload in 2009 that has an eye on keeping him healthy and rebuilding arm strength – likely in Fort Wayne – Schmidt will have to show his arm is ready to respond and worth the money the Padres poured into him. Regardless of how it bears out, Schmidt will be one of the more intriguing stories in 2009.
Talk about this story on our subscriber-only message boards