TAMPA, Fla. -- Bring up James Kaprielian's name to a Yankees official this spring, and the likely response will be a smile and a knowing nod. The team's expectations for the hurler seem sky high, with even managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner voicing hope that he makes it to the
TAMPA, Fla. -- Bring up James Kaprielian's name to a Yankees official this spring, and the likely response will be a smile and a knowing nod. The team's expectations for the hurler seem sky high, with even managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner voicing hope that he makes it to the Majors this year.
Kaprielian was the Yankees' No. 1 Draft selection last year out of UCLA, marking their highest pick (16th overall) since 1993. Scouts believe he is a safe bet to develop into a big league starter, but as he experiences his first Spring Training, the right-hander is trying to keep it all in perspective.
"It's exciting, but at the same time, I just want to take it day to day," Kaprielian said on Sunday. "One of the biggest things that I believe is you can't look too far ahead. I'm just trying to be present every single day. If I'm able to do that, I think I'm going to put myself in a good opportunity for the future just by being present now and working for now."
Kaprielian is currently rated as the Yankees' No. 3 prospect by MLBPipeline.com. Gary Denbo, the Yankees' vice president of player development, said that the team's amateur scouting department did a "tremendous job" in pursuing the athletic hurler, who turns 22 in March.
"Physically, he's very gifted," Denbo said. "I think he's a guy that could probably step off the mound and go play some other positions. He's that kind of an athlete. We'll see how he's able to develop and gain experience, but I think this camp is going to be very valuable for him. We hope that he develops quickly and he's able to help us in the rotation as soon as possible."
Kaprielian agreed to a $2.65 million signing bonus in July and made his professional debut late last season, going 0-1 with a 3.97 ERA in five games (three starts) for the Gulf Coast Yankees and Class A short season Staten Island, where he also made a couple of postseason starts.
"It was a good opportunity to get my feet wet a little bit," Kaprielian said. "It was a short period, but it was good. I came into instructs, and they had me on a pitch count and wanted me to get up to a certain amount of innings. It was good. I was able to get comfortable with the organization and meet some of the guys."
This spring, Kaprielian aims to fine-tune the command of his fastball. He also showed off his changeup, curveball and slider as manager Joe Girardi observed a bullpen session last week.
"He was very much in command of what he was doing, and he seemed very mature on the mound," Girardi said. "I think you're going to want to see him get into a couple games just to see how he reacts in that situation. To me, it looked like a guy that felt like he belonged here, that wasn't serious about his surroundings, wasn't in awe of what was going on."
Kaprielian said that the Yankees were his favorite team while growing up in Tustin, Calif., counting Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter as his favorite players. He was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with Jeter and Andy Pettitte at the team's recent Captain's Camp.
"Jeter told us a lot about consistency and how the guys in the big leagues are just more consistent than us," Kaprielian said. "That obviously feels good as a Minor League baseball player. You just want to continue to try to be as consistent as possible to put yourself in the opportunity to help the big league club."
Kaprielian said that he doesn't feel like that is all that far off, but he trusts that the Yankees will know when he is ready to make the jump.
"Obviously, I'm not fighting for a spot in the Yankees' starting rotation right now, but in the future, hopefully," he said. "I want to continue to get better, and I think that's a big thing for me, just trying to get better every day and get that opportunity."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.