The Yankees had success going the college route with their first pick in last year's draft. Now they're hoping to repeat that. With their highest pick in 22 years, they took righthander James Kaprielian out of UCLA with the 16th overall selection Monday night.
Like the Yankees' 2014 pick, lefthander Jacob Lindgren, who was selected 55th overall out of Mississippi State, Kaprielian is projected by some talent evaluators to be fast-tracked to the majors. Lindgren honored those projections, making it to the Yankees in May and becoming an effective arm out of the bullpen.
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"Kaprielian is a guy we've scouted for a long time, and we're really happy we were able to get him," Yankees vice president of domestic amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer said. "He has three quality pitches, throws strikes and generates a lot of swings-and-misses. On top of that, he has great makeup. He compiled a quality track record in a good league and performed well for Team USA."
Baseball America ranked the 6-4, 200-pound righthander as the 19th-best overall prospect and ninth-best pitcher in the draft.
Kaprielian was taken three years ago out of high school by the Mariners with the 40th overall pick but elected to go to college. He immediately was successful, earning All-American honors as a freshman reliever. He was UCLA's No. 1 starter the last two seasons and went 10-4 with a 2.03 ERA in 17 appearances (16 starts) in 2015.
With a hard-breaking curveball that is considered by many to be his best pitch, Kaprielian led the Pac-12 in strikeouts (114 in 1062/3 innings) and wins.
He is thought to have a somewhat pedestrian fastball -- mostly in the range of 91 to 93 mph -- but finished fifth all-time at UCLA in career ERA (2.06) and sixth all-time in career strikeouts (275).
UCLA has turned out some top-notch arms in recent years. There was Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall pick of the Pirates in 2011 (the Yankees took him in the first round in 2008 but he chose not to sign and instead attended college), and Trevor Bauer, taken third in 2011 by Arizona. He now is with the Indians.
The Bruins' coach, John Savage, recently told The Orange County Register that Kaprielian is "for sure in that conversation."
Kaprielian is the Yankees' highest pick since 1993, when they took righthander Matt Drews with the 13th pick out of Sarasota High School in Florida. The highest level Drews reached was Triple-A.
The Yankees took lefthanded-hitting shortstop Kyle Holder of the University of San Diego at No. 30, a compensatory pick for losing David Robertson in free agency. He had a .348/.418/.482 slash line in 55 games this season. The junior was selected as one of 10 semifinalists for the Brooks Wallace Award, which recognizes the nation's top shortstop. Baseball America ranked him as the 38th-best player in the draft and the best defensive player among the top 200 college players in the draft.
"Holder is about as elite a defender as we've seen come through the college ranks," Oppenheimer said. "He's got a tremendous glove. He also had a productive year offensively and does not swing and miss."
With the 57th pick, the Yankees took Jeff Degano, a 6-4 lefthander from Indiana State. Oppenheimer described him as having "a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a good breaking ball. He throws a lot of strikes and has a quality athletic body."