Prospect Retrospective: Mike Schmidt
Friday we looked at the career and prospect path of Kansas City Royals great George Brett, who was a second round pick in 1971, 29th overall. The 30th overall pick in the '71 draft was Mike Schmidt, selected by the Philadelphia Phillies, making it two Hall of Famers back-to-back in the draft that year. Per reader request earlier this winter, let's take a look at Schmidt's relatively brief minor league career.
Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Schmidt graduated high school in 1967 but was not drafted. He moved on to Ohio University and became a baseball star, noted for his power and overall athleticism, leading the Bobcats to a berth in the 1970 College World Series. The Phillies drafted him in '71, signed him quickly, and sent him directly to Double-A Reading, quite a jump from college baseball, especially back then. He was a shortstop at the time.
Not surprisingly, he did not thrive immediately, hitting .211/.302/.350 with eight homers, 27 walks, and 66 strikeouts in 268 plate appearances, demonstrating plenty of raw power but also a lot of swing-and-miss. He spent almost all of his time at shortstop, making 23 errors in 74 games and putting a position switch on the agenda. Although Schmidt had holes in his game, considering his draft status and power potential, and the stiff jump in competition he faced going from Ohio to Double-A, I would likely give a similar guy a very strong high-ceiling B or B+ nowadays.
The Phillies moved Schmidt up to Triple-A Eugene in the Pacific Coast League for 1972. He thrived, hitting .291/.409/.550 with 26 homers and 87 walks. His strikeout rate was high with 145 whiffs in 531 plate appearances, but he was dominant with a +27 percent OPS. The OBP/power combination was excellent and a taste of things to come.
The Phillies gave up on him at shortstop and split his time between second base and third base, with good results at both positions. He was promoted to Philadelphia for the September stretch run, going 7-for-34 (.206) with five walks, 15 strikeouts, and his first career home run.
Given excellent hitting in Triple-A and better defense, Schmidt would have moved up to at least a Grade A- prospect and probably a straight-A. The only sabermetric concern would have been his strikeout rate, although his age and patience would mitigate that to a great extent.
The Phillies committed to Schmidt at third base for 1973. He showed his power with 18 homers and drew 62 walks in 443 plate appearances, but he also struck out 136 times and hit just .196. I was only five years old then and have no direct memory of that season, but I do remember that as late as 1980, people still talked about Schmidt hitting just .196 as a rookie. Despite that problem, he was still valuable due to his power and defense, posting a safely positive WAR at 2.4.
Schmidt improved dramatically in 1974 at age 24, hitting .282/.395/.546 with 36 homers and 106 walks. He led the National League with 138 strikeouts, but also with 36 homers and in SLG. His defense was outstanding, and he posted an amazing 10.0 WAR.
By WAR standards, '74 was Schmidt's best season, but he was an extraordinarily valuable player for the next 14 seasons, posting WAR values above 5.0 every year until he finally began to fade in 1988 at age 38. Even that year he still posted a 112 OPS+.
Schmidt was a prolific home run hitter, leading the National League in bombs eight times. He led the league in OPS+ six seasons, including five seasons in a row from, 1980-1984. He did this while providing excellent defense, winning 10 Gold Gloves and three MVP awards. His career was a series of superlatives, all deserved.
Overall, Schmidt hit .267/.380/.527 with 548 homers, OPS+147, WAR 110.5. His WAR is the 19th-best all-time and ranks second among third baseman (behind Alex Rodriguez at 114.6). His most-similar players by Bill James Sim Score: Eddie Mathews, Sammy Sosa, Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Reggie Jackson, Willie Stargell, Chipper Jones, and Jim Thome.
Younger fans who don't remember Schmidt should imagine a cross between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa, without steroids, playing Gold Glove defense at third base. That was the impression that Schmidt made in his time.
As a prospect, Schmidt showed athleticism, power, and patience. His defense was rough at shortstop and he had some contact/strikeout problems early, but he settled in easily at third base, and eventually found the offensive balance that made him one of the greatest players in history.