TAMPA, Fla. — James Kaprielian isn’t afraid of the expectations that accompany his status as one of the top pitching prospects in the Yankees’ organization.
Starting in winter 2015, his name rolled off the tongue of managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner as one of the young players the franchise was counting on, and sooner rather than later.
A right flexor strain suffered last April while he was with high Class A Tampa derailed a promising 2016, one that more than a few talent evaluators thought could have ended with him in the Bronx.
And, yes, the 23-year-old recently said he allows himself to picture that end for himself in 2017, assuming he combines health with performance.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Kaprielian said. “I think that’s part of it. You’ve got to be able to visualize and see it happen before it actually happens. I’ve been visualizing it since I was a 5-year- old kid, and it’s always been the pinstripes.”
That isn’t to say Kaprielian is getting ahead of himself.
Far from it.
The righthander, who is scheduled to start Tampa’s season opener on Thursday, impressed veteran teammates with his maturity during spring training the last two years. He said he’s taken to heart the advice he’s received from them, and staff members as well. “People are doing a good job of helping me and telling me, ‘You need to be [in the] present,’ ” he said. “You can’t worry too much about where you’re going or what’s going to happen in the future. Continue to get stronger, continue to just learn every day and be where your feet are.”
Yankees vice president of player development Gary Denbo said of Kaprielian, “He’s got some great qualities as a person, and then you put that together with the athleticism and the abilities he has on the baseball field, it’s the full package.”
Kaprielian features a mid-to- high-90s fastball and sweeping curveball. The Yankees were deliberate with him during spring training, giving him only one appearance before sending him to minor-league camp. In early March, he described himself as “a caged bull” in wanting to get on the mound, and he’s just as enthusiastic to begin in Class A.
“I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “Wherever I am, I need to be able to pitch well, regardless of where.”
Denbo isn’t making any predictions about where Kaprielian will finish 2017, but he did say, “It would not surprise me if he moved quickly through the organization. It would not surprise me because of all the good qualities that he brings every day that he’s out there working. But he has to stay healthy. If he does, it would not surprise me at all.”
Notes & quotes: Lefthander Ian Clarkin, a once-hyped prospect who was the 33rd overall pick in the 2013 draft, is healthy after undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus late last season. General manager Brian Cashman and Denbo were among those watching as the 22-year-old, who has a big curveball, struck out six in six innings of a camp game Monday morning at the minor-league complex. Clark, who will start the season with high Class A Tampa but who has the potential to be a fast riser, allowed one run and four hits . . . LHP Dietrich Enns, a 19th-round pick who spent about half of spring training in big-league camp, struck out 12 in six shutout innings in the camp game . . . Cashman and Denbo also kept an eye on throwing sessions by Nick Nelson, a 21-year-old righty taken in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, and Jeff Degano, a hard-throwing 24-year-old lefty taken in the second round of the 2015 draft. He hit 97 mph in spring training.