LAKELAND, Fla. — Nothing seduces in spring training like a young power arm confounding and blowing away hitters in the Cactus or Grapefruit League, allowing fans and organizations alike to dream of what might be in store in later seasons or even the one ahead.
James Kaprielian is the latest such arm for the Yankees, their first-round draft pick from last June. Many an opposing team scout, and quite a few with the Yankees, have described him as a “fast-tracker,” meaning his time in the big leagues could come much sooner rather than later.
“A stud,” one opposing team talent evaluator said. “That [a call-up in 2016] wouldn’t surprise me at all.”
Kaprielian, in his spring training debut Friday against the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium, showed flashes of why so much hype has accompanied him.
The 6-4, 200-pound righthander, who turned 22 on Wednesday, threw two perfect innings, striking out two. His most impressive inning was his first. He struck out Jose Iglesias swinging after falling behind 2-and-0 and fanned Ian Kinsler swinging after falling behind 3-and-1.
Kaprielian, who featured a fastball sitting at 94 to 96 mph, according to scouts in the stands, admitted to being “anxious” on his way to the mound to start the fifth inning and experiencing “some jitters” as he took the ball.
After the two quick balls to Iglesias, that feeling apparently subsided.
“Really clean delivery,” one American League scout said. “Consistent plus fastball. Good arm speed and strength, and he had a feel for secondary selection as well.”
Kaprielian, who has regularly been praised by Joe Girardi with words such as “poise” and “maturity,” said his one regret was not being able to face Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera. The first baseman was due up second in the bottom of the sixth but was replaced in the field in the top of the inning by Andrew Romine.
“That was the one guy I wanted to face today and I didn’t get to,” Kaprielian said with a smile. “Had a little game plan and everything. Maybe I’ll face him another time.”
He knows that likely won’t be in April when the Yankees face the Tigers in Detroit. He may be fast-tracked, but not that fast.
Kaprielian’s professional career is all of five games old. He finished last season with Class A Staten Island, going 0-1 with a 2.00 ERA and 12 strikeouts in nine innings over three starts, after 2 1⁄3 relief innings with the Gulf Coast League Yankees at the rookie level. He will start this season in the minors.
“I just want to give them a better look at who I am and what I’m about,” Kaprielian said of his camp goals. “Obviously, I’m not fighting for a starting spot in the rotation right now, but I just want to go out there and compete like I am. I want to learn from the older guys but also try and compete with them.”
In other words, Kaprielian, confident but not cocky, will let others handle the projections of where he might end up this season. Besides, the Yankees’ recent history of producing homegrown starters isn’t a glorious one.
“It’s what you dream of,” he said. “This has been one of my goals since I was a little kid. The fact I’m able to be out here with these guys . . . it feels good. I’ve worked hard, but obviously I haven’t done anything yet. Season’s just getting going. I have to keep my head on my shoulders.”