James Kaprielian entered the 2016 season as the odds-on favorite to be the first pitcher in his draft class to hit the major leagues. However, the baseball gods had a different path for the young Kaprielian.
Kaprielian after just a few starts went down with an elbow injury, later diagnosed as a flexor tendon strain in his right elbow that kept him out of commission from April onward.
Before the injury Kaprielian went from throwing in the low-90s at UCLA, to being clocked at 99 in his first few starts.
For a guy with excellent secondary stuff, a reputation for knowing how to pitch and plus control, that made the Yankees being overly cautious and protective of their young first round pick.
However, all is not lost. Kaprielian was added to the Arizona Fall League roster. Absent the injury, this would be a surprise. The
Arizona Fall League is a highly-competitive, offense-first league for advanced prospects.
In his five AFL starts, Kaprielian has a 3.93 ERA in 18 1/3 innings, striking out 17 and walking four while giving up three homers.
Other Yankees in Arizona include Greg Bird, Tyler Wade, Miguel Andujar, Dillon Tate and (AFL MVP) Gleybar Torres.
If Kaprielian is indeed healthy, he instantly changes the farm system outlook. If he is indeed throwing in the mid-to-high-90s, he has top-of-the-rotation potential.
The Yankees have badly needed to rebuild their minor league pitching pipeline in recent years. There are a lot of flaws in the current crop of young Yankee pitchers.
Can Luis Severino and Chad Green develop a true offspeed pitch to take hitters off their power stuff?
Are Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa capable of harnessing their average-slightly above average Curveball/Sliders to point where their Fastballs play up even more?
A healthy Kaprielian is better than any of them, and could hit the majors in late 2017 if everything goes right.
Kaprielian, however, isn’t over thinking his situation at all.
“If I don’t get called up to The Bronx, it’s out of my hands. If they think I’m ready, they think I’m ready. If not, I’m not ready,” the philosophical Kaprielian said. “I’m going to continue to do whatever I can to prepare myself and get better every outing. But that’s out of my hands. I can’t control that.”
Kaprielian will be invited to his second major league spring training with the Yankees, and he expressed confidence he will be wiser for last year’s experience.
Being able to talk to the guys like CC [Sabathia], [Nathan] Eovaldi kind of took me under his wing last year, being able to talk to all of those guys, being comfortable as soon as I could, being able to just relax and perform and play baseball was huge,” he said.
“Now going through the experience my first spring training, first big league camp, next year I think will be a lot more smooth.”
The big challenge going forward is bringing his innings up. I can’t imagine they will want to pitch him more than ~130 innings next season. That means a potential 2018 rookie season will still take place under a harsh innings cap.
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