BBB 2017 Top Prospect Countdown #7: James Kaprielian

James Kaprielian is a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher. The Yankees selected Kaprielian with the 15th overall pick of the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft. He starred at UCLA, where he was part of the first ever UCLA no-hitter. Kaprielian played high school baseball in Laguna Hills, California for Arnold O. Berkman High School. His high school stats included a 33-3 record and a 0.96 ERA. The Yankees viewed Kaprielian as a safe pick, projecting him as a “no doubt” middle of the rotation starter.
Photo Credit: Matt Rourke | AP

Breakdown:

From early on scouts have projected Kaprielian to land somewhere in the middle of a major league rotation and regarded him as one of the best pitching talents in the 2015 draft. These days his rapid development has those scouts second-guessing that projection, is a positive way. Kaprielian had an injury shortened 2016, but in his little time in the minor league system he absolutely dominated. In 18 innings, Kaprielian pitched to a 1.50 ERA with 22 strikeouts. This is where Kaprielian development takes a bit of a weird turn. Upon returning from his injury only a few months ago, he saw his average fastball velocity go from low 90’s to upper 90’s, touching 97 regularly. Add that heat to a polished pitch repertoire, that includes a devastating curveball and you have a pitcher with ace potential. 

Kaprielian has the physical stats of a major league stud, coming in at 6’4" and 195 pounds. I have read that he has added close to twenty pounds of “healthy weight” since college, so he may be closer to 220. He also has a pitching pedigree. He won a national championship with UCLA as a freshman and pitched around the world with USA’s collegiate national team. Kaprielian has also already proved that he is mentally tough on the hill. Just days after losing his mother to breast cancer, he dominated the Chinese Taipei national team, throwing 6 innings of shutout baseball with 12 strikeouts. The New York spotlight has proven to break many, but Kaprielian seems ready for that stage.

Projection:

The sky is the limit for Kaprielian. He has the size, the stuff, and the mental makeup to be a very talented major league starter. It seems like the only question at this point is how good will he become? Whether he is leading the staff as the ace or making up the back end of the rotation will depend on his further development and health. Speaking of health, the Yankees have already announced that he will only throw simulated games in the spring in an effort to bring him back from his flexor tendon injury. Early reports are that he has had no signs of this injury lingering and that he is “chomping at the bit” to take the hill. 

I have read pieces that say he could be a dark horse to land in the Yankee rotation as soon as this year. If I were a betting man (I am) I would bet that we won’t see Kaprielian until next year, at least. His injury history, mixed with his professional inexperience, and a slew of other young arms, doesn’t really lead me to believe the Yankees would rush his development. Regardless, there is a lot to be excited about with Kaprielian and he certainly gives us a reason to catch some minor league action this summer.

Major League Comparison: Earlier in the year I compared him to Jake deGrom, which I don’t think is a terrible comparison. But after watching more game tape I really liken him to Ben Sheets. His mix of breaking pitches, his ability to crank up the fastball when he needs to, and his aggressive style makes him the perfect comparison. They even have a similar North to South motion that makes for those devastating curveballs.


Article by: Jesse Bartley


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