TAMPA, Fla. — During a session with reporters last Nov. 18 at MLB’s quarterly owners’ meetings in Dallas, Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner hit on what has been one of his favorite topics in recent years: the Yankees’ improved farm system, which last season sent several contributors to the Bronx, including much-hyped prospects Greg Bird and Luis Severino.
In mentioning some of those players and the hope that they, and a few others, can help this season in the big leagues, Steinbrenner brought up a new name: James Kaprielian, a hard-throwing righthander who was the Yankees’ first-round draft pick in June 2015.
“Yeah, I heard about it, but it wasn’t anything I wanted to look too far into,” Kaprielian, 21, said Sunday.
The 6-4, 200-pounder, who was taken 16th overall out of UCLA, smiled and said, “It’s always good when your owner recognizes you and knows your name, right?”
The Yankees have big hopes for Kaprielian, who led the Pac-12 in strikeouts (114 in 106 2⁄3 innings) and wins (10) in 2015, but he won’t be rushed.
Shortly after signing, he pitched in the Gulf Coast League and finished the year with Class A Staten Island, going 1-0 with a 2.00 ERA in three starts. That’s a professional career comprising all of five games total. Still . . .
“He’s a fast-tracker,” one opposing team talent evaluator said of Kaprielian, who impressed the Yankees by immediately throwing 95 mph in the instructional league. “I wouldn’t rule [making it to the majors in 2016] out.”
Nor would Joe Girardi.
“He seemed very mature on the mound,” said Girardi, who watched Kaprielian’s bullpen session Saturday. “To me, it looked like a guy that felt like he belonged . . . The last few years, I think our organization has shown anything is possible. We had 31 pitchers in camp last year, we used 31 during the season. So hey, anything can happen.”
Kaprielian, who is happy just to be in his first big-league camp, will let others make those kinds of predictions.
“I have a goal to be able to learn and take everything in and gain the respect of my peers around here, the coaching staff, the organization and my teammates,” he said. “If I’m fortunate one day to become teammates with these guys, they’ll have that trust in me.”
Kaprielian has been in Tampa nearly a month and was invited to participate in the Captain’s Camp, which is in its second year. Yankees vice president of player development Gary Denbo started the camp with the hope of developing leadership skills in many of the club’s top prospects. He has brought in guest speakers such as Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Alex Rod riguez, Tino Martinez and, yes, Derek Jeter.
“One of the things that Derek mentioned was the guys at the big-league level are just more consistent,” Kaprielian said. “They’re more consistent than us minor-league players, so the minute you can overcome that and work on being consistent, you have a shot at being a big-leaguer. That’s one thing I’m going to try and work on.”