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Giants' Schmitt earns lofty comparisons to Gold Glove winners

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San Francisco Giants

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- One of the easiest ways to get your point across when evaluating prospects is to find an interesting comparison at the big league level. When it comes to Giants third base prospect Casey Schmitt, scouts can't help but aim high.

Schmitt has been compared to former Athletics star Matt Chapman pretty much since the moment he got drafted in the second round in 2020. One National League scout who saw him play for High-A Eugene last summer wrote that he was the most gifted defensive third baseman he has seen in the minors since Nolan Arenado.

As Brandon Crawford watches Schmitt go through his work in camp, another player comes to mind. 

"I'd say [Evan Longoria] is a pretty good comp," Crawford said. "But, like, a younger version of Longo. Some of the actions that he makes, you can definitely see the resemblance to some of the best third basemen in the big leagues."

While Schmitt hopes to be the long-term successor to Longoria at third, that actually might not be the best comp when it comes to recent or current Giants. In a lot of ways -- including the fact that his glove is leading the way through the minors -- Schmitt is following the path set by Crawford. 

Like the four-time Gold Glove shortstop, Schmitt, who won a minor league Gold Glove last year, just makes everything look easy. His footwork is just a touch crisper than everyone else's, his hands are better, and he always seems to know the right place to be. The comparison is particularly noticeable when Schmitt throws. Like Crawford, he pitched at times in college, and like Crawford, he seems to be completely comfortable throwing from any angle or on the run.

 

Crawford hasn't gotten a lot of time with the young third baseman thus far because they're generally doing drills at the same time, but from what he has seen, he said Schmitt's "movements are a bit different than a lot of guys that play there."

"One of the things we were doing (recently) was turning double plays, and I did see a few of them where he'll kind of come in on the run and throw sidearm, like at a 90-degree angle, and it just looks like he's done it a lot," Crawford said. "Longo, Nolan, Chapman ... on that throw he made (in his first start), you can kind of see a resemblance to those guys."

Schmitt got to show off the arm right away. In the first Cactus League appearance of his career, he made a diving stop down the line and fired a strike to first to end an inning. The batter was so surprised that Schmitt got to the ball that he was out by a step in large part because he was planning to round first and cruise into second with a double. 

In that first appearance, Schmitt also hit a loud homer to the top of the berm in left field, a moment that was more important in his bid to make his big league debut this season. The Giants know Schmitt is capable right now of helping them defensively, but he only has 719 at-bats as a professional. After an injury-marred 2021, he broke out in 2022, earning two promotions and posting an .854 OPS across three levels. 

Schmitt started the year with higher-touted prospects in Eugene and hit 17 homers in 93 games. He took it up a notch in Richmond, batting .342 in a tough league for hitters, with a .378 on-base percentage and .517 slugging percentage. He finished the year with four appearances with Triple-A Sacramento, going 5-for-15 with a double and a homer. Overall, Schmitt ranked in the 90th percentile of minor leaguers in exit velocity. 

Schmitt said the biggest breakthrough was just coming into every day "with a clean head" and putting the disappointment of 2021 in the rearview mirror. Even as he was tearing up Double-A pitching, he tried not to look at the scoreboard to see what he was hitting. 

"Going back to my first year, I had a rough year. I was unlucky and it was full of injuries, and I think I pushed too much. I tired to do too much. That first year, I wanted to conquer the world," he said. "But going into last year, I wanted to make sure I didn't get too high or too low. I tried to stay mentally strong and just control what I could control on the field."

 

With a better base to build on this spring, the Giants are going to throw new challenges at Schmitt. He has primarily been a third baseman since high school, but when Marco Luciano got hurt last year, Schmitt started 40 games at shortstop and got strong reviews. 

Schmitt is a potential Gold Glove winner at the big league level at third base, but the biggest need for the Giants in the short term may be elsewhere. David Villar will get the first crack at third base this season, with J.D. Davis and Wilmer Flores also seeing time. The Giants have plenty of depth at third, but not much behind Crawford and Thairo Estrada at short, so Kapler said Schmitt will get reps and Cactus League appearances there this spring. 

"Kai (Correa) had a really good way of breaking it down: When you watch him at third base, it's really natural. It's like, oh, this is a great third baseman," Kapler said. "When you watch him at shortstop, it's like, this is a really good athlete with good hands playing shortstop. It's going to take some time for him to get comfortable, know all the moves, know how to position his body."

Schmitt said he's excited for the challenge, and he already has a good baseline. Like Crawford, he has the footwork to feel comfortable anywhere on the dirt, and he has more than enough arm strength to handle different types of throws. Schmitt pitched 50 times in three years at San Diego State, posting a 2.48 ERA and hitting 96 mph on the gun. There was enough promise there that several organizations talked to him about being a two-way player in the minors, but the Giants scooped him up and decided right away that his future was at third. 

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"I think that's something I really needed," Schmitt said. "I think I needed to just sit and focus on one thing and try to develop that way instead of trying to bounce around two different things."

The decision put Schmitt on the fast track to the big leagues, and he'll start this season in Triple-A, a phone call away from his debut. In the meantime, scouts will keep filing those reports comparing the prospect to some of the most impactful defensive third basemen in the league. Schmitt said he is generally aware of the comparisons, and the Longoria one is meaningful since he grew up watching him, but he won't be paying attention to the hype. 

"I don't really have Twitter," he said, laughing. "So I don't really see them."

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