"I see a hungriness this year that I've never seen before," Schmidt said Thursday morning at Bright House Field. "Obviously, in the last four or five years, you weren't looking for guys to be hungry. They were the heir apparent to the division titles, MVP Award. We were the first place MLB Network came to every year. We were on the cover of Sports Illustrated. We were at the top of the game for many years here over the last six or seven. All of a sudden, we find ourselves not even being discussed as World Series contenders.
"I think our guys are hungry. Individually, [Ryan] Howard is tremendously hungry. You don't think [Chase] Utley is hungry? It's almost that feeling of, 'Man, I have to resurrect my career.' I liked it when we were on top as a team and individually. They're now coming to camp and go through the daily business with something to prove again. I think the team feels they have something to prove. And they dang sure have the studs to do it. They're still the same team, pretty much. A little bit older and a little bit more experienced, but we're hungry. And there's nothing like being hungry."
It remains to be seen if desire is enough to overcome the Nationals and Braves in the National League East, but Schmidt, who is in camp until March 20 as a special Spring Training instructor, always offers an interesting perspective on the Phils and other matters.
Here are some topics he covered in a sweeping 25-minute interview:
On new third baseman Michael Young: "Golly, I was talking to [Phillies president] David Montgomery about him 10 minutes ago. What a lot of people don't realize, and I haven't heard it, Michael Young could retire tomorrow and he would be a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame. He's probably two Michael Young years away from being a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I don't know if anybody has thought about that. I don't know what his career hitting numbers are, but he's a little like Derek Jeter, is he not? He's that kind of player, and he's had that kind of career. Obviously, it's not playing in New York, but if he played in New York, imagine what people would be saying about Michael Young's career? Somebody would have mentioned the Hall of Fame a long time ago."
On connecting with Howard early in camp: "I've got to tell you right out of the chute, Ryan Howard, to me, is very interested in my input in his hitting. To me that makes me really feel good. We've chatted over the years about hitting. I've always been a Ryan Howard fan, but he's picking my brain a little bit more. He looks good. He's thin. He's doing some of the things we talk about. It's not going in one ear and out the other. He's taking it all in. I'm only in my second day here and I'm really excited. I feel like I've made more strides in my temporary coaching role than I ever had to this point. Of course we'll see in a couple weeks how it all works out as they get game at-bats."
On how he can help Howard the most: "He's stuck in a game situation against the best pitcher, one of the best left-handers in the league, probably 60-70 times more than any other hitter in the league. He probably creates 20 jobs in the Major Leagues. There's 20 left-handers that wouldn't be in the Major Leagues if Ryan Howard weren't in the Major Leagues, right? I guess what we're kind of working on is a mindset that may allow him to become a little stronger in those at-bats. A little more contact. He's still going to strike out. I'm in the top 10 all time in strikeouts, so I'm pretty comfortable with striking out. But I think he needs to, and we were talking about ways where we might get him to be a little less strikeout prone in those kind of [Jonny] Venters at-bats, against Atlanta late in the game, when you get that nasty left-hander to get him out. We need contact in this at-bat. I don't care if it's a grounder to second or a chopper up the middle. Even if it's on the first pitch or second pitch. Less foul balls and two-strike vulnerability in those at-bats. He has bought into the discussion 100 percent."
On Darin Ruf: "At this point, I'm a big fan. I chatted with him really quickly, told him, 'Congratulations on your great start with the Phillies in the Major Leagues.' I think he opened a lot of eyes when he came up. I don't want to speak out of turn, but I would guess they want him to play ... I just like him. He's a great young kid. He has no fear as a hitter against tough right-handers. You see that sometimes. He can give you a hell of an at-bat against a nasty right-handed pitcher. He's very mature for 26. I wouldn't discount him being your Opening Day starter [in left field]. Let's wait and see. He has everything you need to win that job."
On Domonic Brown: "From a hitting standpoint, even now he might be ahead of where I was at that time, a little better idea of hitting. I couldn't hit a ball to the opposite field to save my butt back then. I couldn't hit a curveball, I couldn't hit a slider. But I sure could hit a long home run down the left-field line and play third base. I was afforded the time to make adjustments and sort of become an everyday, consistent Major League hitter. He doesn't have that luxury. He has Darin Ruf hounding him ... he's got like six guys who want his position. For him to get that guarantee of, 'You're our left fielder, you're getting 500 at-bats' is very, very hard. ... It's about time that Domonic does the things that everyone thinks he can do. And not do them over a day, but does them over a month, then two months. And that's when he gets his name inserted in the lineup every day."