When Casey Schmitt homered in his second career at-bat on Tuesday, as part of a two-hit debut that propelled the San Francisco Giants to a win over the Washington Nationals, it was a great story. I wrote about how it felt like the door opening to the next era of Giants baseball, and I stand by that, but it really didn’t tell us anything about Schmitt. It told us that he had a storybook debut that he’d remember with the biggest smile on his face when he’s teaching his grandkids and great grandkids how to throw a wiffle ball. But it didn’t tell us anything about what kind of player he’d be.
It told us he hit a home run, but that doesn’t even guarantee a second one.
Entering Thursday’s play, there were 1,733 players in MLB history who had hit exactly one home run in their career. No more. No less. Just one. That’s 7.6% of all players who have made the Majors!
And sure, that list includes one of the greatest broadcasters of all time, whom we have the pleasure of listening to every night, and I’d love for Schmitt to become that. And yes, that list includes the Giants current ace, and ... look, Schmitt was technically drafted as a two-way player. It could happen!
But while being the next Duane Kuiper or Logan Webb would be a fun career path for Schmitt, when a hot infield prospect debuts you dream that they’ll be the next Nolan Arenado, the next Matt Chapman, or ... yeah ... the next Brandon Crawford. Or Evan Longoria. And one good game a story makes, but not a career.
And when Schmitt had a second straight two-hit game on Wednesday, which featured a double in the Giants loss to the Nationals, it still didn’t really tell us anything. It told us he had an exciting start. It made you really want to watch his next game. It let you dream a little more.
But it still didn’t tell us about the player he might be.
I had this on my mind on Thursday, when Schmitt dug into the batter’s box in the second inning of a scoreless game against the Arizona Diamondbacks with Michael Conforto on first base. And when Schmitt hit the type of obscene home run that immediately called to mind the swings and distances of two former Giants — Longoria and Madison Bumgarner — I let myself start to wonder if maybe we’d seen enough to declare that actually we are learning about the player that Schmitt will be.
443 feet was the distance, a mark that only two Giants have surpassed this year. 111.6 mph was the exit velocity, a mark that only one Giant has surpassed this year.
And then the broadcast, trying to be optimistic, tripped and dumped a bucket of ice water all over me. They flashed a graphic showing all the other players in Giants history who had hit two home runs in their first three games. You could count the number of names on one hand, which is writer speak for not remembering whether there were four or five names on the list. It was such an uninspiring list that I only remember the two most recent names on it. Those two names were Aramis Garcia and Brett Pill.
My mother just read that sentence and said, “I don’t know who those people are,” which is a good litmus test for whether a Giant had a successful career or not.
Maybe Schmitt is headed for greatness but alas, I was forced to accept that this sample of nine at-bats was not the data point I was in search of.
The Giants hummed along with that 2-0 lead until Schmitt came up in the fourth inning, and then he singled, though he didn’t score. They kept humming along with that 2-0 lead until the seventh inning, and then he singled again, though he still didn’t score.
They kept humming with that 2-0 lead until Schmitt came up in the ninth inning with two on and no outs and seized the opportunity to pad the lead by hitting an RBI double, which kickstarted a four-run rally.
And then the broadcast flashed another graphic to contextualize Schmitt’s success. Schmitt’s eight hits had now tied the franchise record for the most hits through the first three games of a career.
This time I remember the number of players on the list with Schmitt: one. And this time I remember the name: Willie McCovey.
No outcome is off the table when a player is three games into their career and not yet old enough to rent a car, but the overwhelmingly likely outcome is that Schmitt ends up somewhere between Brett Pill and Willie McCovey. We’ll have to wait and see. But unlike how I felt after Tuesday and Wednesday, I feel fairly comfortable making an assessment after Thursday: Casey Schmitt is pretty damn good at this whole baseball thing.
There will be struggles. There will be cold patches where he looks like the still rather inexperienced glove-first prospect that he is. But when a player goes 8-12 in his first three games, with one regular home run, one gargantuan home run, two doubles, and a delightful control of the strike zone, it’s fair to start declaring them as what they almost surely are: a good baseball player.
Schmitt was so good and so exciting that I’m more than 900 words into a game story and I haven’t even mentioned that Alex Cobb pitched 7.1 scoreless innings. Sorry, Alex. Shiny new toy and all. But we should really mention that Alex Cobb pitched 7.1 scoreless innings.
So here goes: Alex Cobb pitched 7.1 scoreless innings.
Just as Logan Webb did during Schmitt’s debut, Cobb succeeded by trusting his defense. It was a delightful thing to see after last year, when a truly putrid defense seemed to let Cobb down every single time he took the mound. He couldn’t stop trusting them ... he’s a ground-ball pitcher, he has no choice ... and they couldn’t stop disappointing him.
But the defense is new and improved this year, as evidenced by the fact that Schmitt has played his first three games at shortstop, despite being a MiLB Gold Glove winner last year at third base, because the Giants would be fools to move J.D. Davis off of the position that he was a laughingstock at as recently as October.
Those guys have earned Cobb’s trust and it played out beautifully on Thursday. He was far from dominant — he struck out just three batters, and gave up seven hits and two walks. But he limited hard contact and let the Diamondbacks hit balls where the Giants could scoop them up.
The Giants made the ultra rare 3-4-3 putout in the first inning. They got an inning-ending double play with runners at the corners in the second inning. They got an inning-ending double play in the fifth inning. And they worked around two baserunners in both the sixth and seventh innings.
After the ninth-inning fun gave the Giants a 6-0 lead, they were able to relax a little and bring in a low-leverage reliever in Cole Waites. The decision unfortunately did not serve its intended purpose, as Waites gave up a pair of runs before getting pulled for Camilo Doval. So if there’s one downside from the game, it’s that the Giants closer had to work in a game where it looked like he wouldn’t.
But that’s a pretty tiny downside when the upside is threefold: a potential franchise cornerstone had a four-hit day and finished a triple shy of the cycle, pushing his sample size into “wait this might actually be meaningful territory;” Alex Cobb didn’t allow a run for the third time in his last four starts, with the only blip in that four-game stretch coming in Mexico City; and the Giants won 6-2.
It was a good day.