PEORIA, Ariz. — A year ago, James Kaprielian appeared to be on the fast track.
The righthander, taken 16th overall by the Yankees in the June 2015 draft, immediately was impressive after signing with them. He even was mentioned by managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner the following offseason as someone who could make a meteoric rise to the Bronx before the end of 2016.
A lights-out start last April with high Class A Tampa only fueled that hype. Then his season came to a sudden halt. After going 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA in his first three starts — with 22 strikeouts and three walks in 18 innings — the 22-year-old was shut down with inflammation in his right elbow. Later in the summer came the diagnosis of a right flexor strain, which officially ended his season.
“First time I’ve ever been sidelined, and to me that’s the hardest thing,” Kaprielian said Thursday after making his sixth start in the Arizona Fall League for the Scottsdale Scorpions.
He believes those days are behind him. Though his AFL numbers don’t jump off the page, Kaprielian declared himself “100-percent healthy,” which for him and the Yankees is much more significant than his 5.16 ERA through six starts.
“It’s tough because baseball’s such a results-based game, [but] I think the biggest thing for me right now is the test of whether my arm’s going to make it through every five days or six days or whatever,” said Kaprielian, who will make one more AFL start. “So I’m trying to stay positive regardless of what the results are and know that whatever they are, I’m feeling good the next day.”
Kaprielian allowed five runs and three hits in 4 1⁄3 innings Thursday, though a misplay by leftfielder Tim Tebow contributed to three runs (two of which scored on a homer by the next batter). In 22 2⁄3 innings, Kaprielian has 22 strikeouts and six walks. A fastball that scouts had consistently at 97 to 98 mph before the injury has sat at 93 to 96 mph this fall and touched 97 Thursday.
“He’s been good here,” one opposing team scout said. “He was fantastic in April before the injury. But he looks healthy. There’s rust, which you’d expect.”
While not making any grand proclamations about 2017, Kaprielian left no doubt where his sights are set, for himself and a Yankees team relying more and more on youth.
“I want to be a big-leaguer, and I want to pitch for the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium in the Bronx,” he said. “It’s not just me. We have a bunch of guys here. We want to win a World Series and we want to do it next year and we want to do it the year after that. I think we’re going to continue to push each other.”