The New York Yankees seem to be going through a shift in philosophy. The team uncharacteristically seems to be getting younger, a shift that seems to be anchored in some smart picks in 2012 and a strong 2013 draft class. Heading into the 2015 draft with their highest pick in 22 seasons, the Yankees had to make it count.
Enter James Kaprielian. The 6 foot 4, 200 pound right hander was the Yankees 16th overall pick out of UCLA. Hailing from a conference full of talent, Kaprielian ended his career leading the PAC-12 in strikeouts in both 2014 and ’15 as a starter after a successful 2013 in the bullpen. He also combined to throw the Bruins’ first ever no-hitter.
Here you can see the best of what he had to offer at UCLA before the draft. Watch his four pitches land with ease in the zone (courtesy of PAC-12 Network):
Why were the Yankees so high on Kaprielian? Despite some recent struggles, the Yankees have a pretty solid top end of the rotation with Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and 21-year old Luis Severino. Projected as a number three starter already, where does Kaprielian fit in to their future plans?
I talk with several New York - Penn League beat guys pretty regularly and they have been gushing over Kaprielian since his first start. He hurled three innings of no-hit ball against the Lowell Spinners in that start, striking out four and walking none. He landed 24 of his 35 pitches for strikes, an impressive 69% for a debut.
That’s who Kaprielian is. He has become known for terrific command, being able to repeatedly land all four of his pitches for strikes. His fastball, was originally projected in the low-90s range (89 to 92). Ricky Keeler told me that recently he was hitting 94 to 95, which would be an incredible advantage to a pitcher whose off speed stuff has been described as nasty.
His curve and change are above average pitches and the way people speak of them, they seem to be well above average pitches. Both pitches appear to have picked up some velocity since his college days, coming across the plate in the low 80s as opposed to the high 70s they once did. Clint Logenecker over at Baseball America watched Kaprielian throw his curve three different ways in an outing for the Collegiate National Team: an 11-5 offering, and 12-6 offering and a three quarter break. That kind of control at a young age is certainly going to turn some heads.
He seems to be able to go after batters early with the fastball and curve and finish them off with the change at times, a pitch that Kaprielian himself feels is developing splitter action. His slider, although a work in progress, seems to land for strikes enough to be considered a pitch he will be able to use at the higher levels.
Kaprielian’s regular season stats are a bit deceiving. He walked four batters and allowed five earned runs over two levels, but two of those walks and three of those runs came in his first career appearance for the Gulf Coast Yankees, a game he did not start.
Once he settled in at Staten Island, he made three starts posting a 2.00 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP and striking out 11 while walking just two batters over his nine innings of work. Most impressively, Kaprielian got the call for Staten Island’s first game of the playoffs. The young righty hurled his longest and perhaps most important outing of the season, going six innings of one run ball allowing four hits, no walks and striking out four.
He would leave with a no decision as the SI Yanks would walk off victorious in the 11th, but one thing was for certain. The advanced poise, makeup and maturity in his mindset people have raved that Kaprielian possesses was on full display on the biggest stage for him yet. In this interview by Gershon Rabinowitz, you can see how he is both humble and confident, with a boy-like excitement to be a part of the New York Yankees.
Kaprielian has a few concerns, as do many 21-year old pitchers, but his potential is exciting to say the least. There is no reason to think that barring no health issues, Kaprielian should climb the Yankees minor league ladder rather quickly next season. If all goes well, you could reasonably expect him to compete for a slot in 2017.