James Kaprielian's career filled was once filled so much promise, and it is now filled with so many question marks
James Kaprielian has had a career with much success in the early going juxtaposed against crushing elbow injuries. This all started in 2016 in Single-A Tampa for Kaprielian when his season came to an abrupt end with elbow pain. He was later diagnosed with a right flexor tendon strain, and would not pitch until the Arizona Fall League. After making just two appearances between major and minor league Spring Training, his began experiencing elbow pain again, now getting to the point many Yankee fans feared was coming - Tommy John Surgery. So after building such a strong resume in the minor leagues, Kaprielian’s future has come into question just as quickly as he became a top prospect.
After pitching to a 10-4 record with a 2.02 ERA in 17 appearances including 16 starts during his junior year at UCLA in the spring of 2015, James Kaprielian was being regarded as quite possibly the most polished right-handed starting pitcher in the MLB draft. Though he may not have had the biggest ceiling, many scouts thought Kaprielian could be the first player in the 2015 MLB draft to reach the big leagues. The Yankees capitalized on Kaprielian, selecting him with the 16th pick in the first round, and sent him to their rookie league team. Kaprielian dominated, reaching Low-A ball that season before the season ended.
In 2015, Kaprielian went 0-1 in four games (three starts) with a 1.64 ERA. Although the sample size was small, this was only the beginning of his short, but impressive resume. Kaprielian picked up right where he left off when he started the season in Tampa in 2016, going 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA in three starts. However, that is where the elbow issues began for the then 22-year-old.
Kaprielian first visited Dr. Neal ElAttrache in June of 2016 after experiencing elbow discomfort that season. It was determined that rest was the best course of action for the time being, and Kaprielian returned to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. Though his numbers were not incredible, as he went just 2-3 with a 4.33 ERA, his fastball averaged 95.7 MPH according to pitch FX, and scouts begin believing the Kaprielian was back on his fast track to the bigs. But before he knew it, his fast track to the Bronx came to a screeching halt.
|Photo Credit: Icon Sportswire via Getty Images|
Kaprielian made just one appearance with the Yankees big league club in Spring Training on March 16th throwing two scoreless innings allowing no hits, no runs, one walk, and three strikeouts. He also picked up the win. Before that, the Yankees had been cautious with their young prospect, limiting him to simulated games. He would make one more appearance, this time in minor Spring Training going four innings 10 days later on March 26th. On April 6th, Kaprielian was reported as having more elbow discomfort, and just one week later, it was reported that Dr. Neal ElAttrache would be performing Tommy John Surgery on April 18th.
This was devastating news for baseball fans, but it must be noted that this surgery is by no means a death sentence to pitchers. While the surgery had a history of sending pitchers on a downward spiral many years ago, we have recently seen many surgeons steer star pitchers’ careers back on track following the surgery. In fact, ElAttrache performed Jose Fernandez’s TJS, and he came back to being a Cy Young candidate in 2016 before his tragic death.
There have been big name pitchers to undergo the knife and come back strong. To name a few, Carlos Carrasco of the Indians, former Yankee and World Series champ AJ Burnett, Yu Darvish of the Rangers, Jacob deGrom of the Mets (who some compare Kaprielian’s game to), Hall of Famer John Smoltz, Adam Wainright of the Cardinals, and many more. Of course, there have been pitchers who were never the same following their surgery like Brian Wilson, Rick Ankiel (as a pitcher), Joba Chamberlain, and others. Point being, this surgery has a higher success rate than not, but Kaprielian’s future as a pitcher is now as up in the air as it has ever been.
|Photo Credit: Matt Rourke | AP|
Kaprielian was both MLB Pipeline’s and Baseball Prospectus’ 58th ranked prospect heading into this year. He was regarded as a top five-to-10 prospect in a loaded Yankees farm system, and we ranked him seventh heading into this year. Unfortunately, Kaprielian will see his rank decline across all boards, as he likely won’t be back on a mound until June or July of 2018. And while it was thought that Kaprielian could work his way to the Bronx by September of 2017, he now may be looking at a September of 2018 call-up as his best case scenario, with 2019 looking more likely.
Andrew Marchand of ESPN.com recently wrote that the rebuilding Yankees could no longer afford to count on Kaprielian to become an ace of the future, and although it is a shame, this opinion is warranted. Still, the Yankees have Luis Severino and Justus Sheffield who have top-line stuff, to go along with Jordan Montgomery who just made his MLB Debut, and they also have pitchers in the minor leagues like Chance Adams, Albert Abreu, and Chad Green to potentially fill out the rotation in the years to come. At this point, Kaprielian can only hope to join that group as a mid-to-back end pitcher.
|Photo Credit: Charles Wenzelberg | NY Post|
At just 23, there is no reason whatsoever to write James Kaprielian off. He’s still young with loads of potential. However, the fact of the matter is, he can’t stay on the field, and he hasn’t pitched above Single-A Tampa. Kaprielian has been known for his positive attitude and leadership qualities, and this is why no one should be counting this kid out yet. He sure believes in himself going forward, and Yankee fans should too. You just can’t help but beginning to wonder what this young righty could possibly be if he could stay away from the injury bug.
His career is no longer a matter of when he gets to the Bronx and becomes the ace of the staff, but if he can get to the Bronx and become a member of their pitching staff in the near future.
Article by: Chad Raines
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