UCLA product James Kaprielian was a first-round draft pick for the New York Yankees in 2015. Kaprielian comes as a promising prospect with four above-average pitches to choose from. He went to a Yankees organization that has had a rotation filled with question marks over the last couple of years. Though just a selection from the 2015 draft, Kaprielian has been making a splash in the organization already, despite missing a large amount of time from injury. He’s viewed as a key part of the Yankees’ very bright future.
In his rookie season, Kaprielian was assigned to the GCL and Staten Island Yankees. He pitched for a combined 11 2/3 innings. While giving up five runs, he also struck out 14 in the process and maintained a 1.24 WHIP. Nine of those 11 2/3 innings came from three starts in Staten Island where he gave up just two runs and struck out 12. Though it was a small sample size to say the least, Kaprielian was heading into his first full season with a clean showing.
In 2016, Kaprielian started the season with High-A Tampa. He made three promising starts before the year’s abrupt end. In those three starts he’d pitch 18 innings and give up eight hits, three runs, three walks, and one home run, all while totaling 22 strikeouts. His pitch totals went up in each game, starting with 60, then hitting 76 and 84. His third start against the Dunedin Jays would be his last of 2016 until the Arizona Fall League came around. Kaprielian was diagnosed a right elbow flexor tendon strain come June, he’d be hopeful to return around September, but a set back would have him out totally. His 2016 campaign would still end with a bright 1.50 ERA and 0.61 WHIP. Kaprielian was still able to showcase his assets in 2016, however. 2016 was nowhere near a total loss for Kaprielian, as he was able to get a head start on his return from injury in Arizona, instead of doing it next season.
He made seven starts for the Scottsdale Scorpions, though not all clean and shiny as his three starts with Tampa, better now than 2017 to face live hitters for the first time after an elbow injury. He finished with a 4.33 ERA over 27 innings pitched where he’d give up 13 earned runs, four home runs, eight walks, and total 26 strikeouts.
Not only was the AFL a chance for Kaprielian to shake dust off, but to work on things he would’ve with Tampa, Trenton, or even Scranton. Out of the fastball, change-up, and slider, his curveball will be something that can set him up to be a lethal weapon in the Yankees’ rotation one day. Moving forward, you’ll most likely see Kaprielian incorporate that fourth pitch into at-bats much more. It will also have to be kept in mind that seven starts is obviously not enough for him to get back to form, he’ll be trying to get past any mental and physical hurdles that are still left in the process. In his return to the mound in the Arizona Fall League his velocity returned to where it was before his injury, hitting as high as 97 miles per hour.
Much is expected for Kaprielian next season, some even think he could make his major league debut, of course that’s the last thing to worry about (also unrealistic). The Yankees will proceed with caution on their 9th rated prospect and 2017 will be an uphill battle for him. Should he start 2017 like he started 2016, finishing the season with a strong Triple-A showing should be the goal. Like many others in the Yankees’ farm, there’s no need to rush him, and the elbow injury holds him to that even more than others. It will be a very telling year for the Californian-native as he’ll have much to overcome.