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Yanks' Kaprielian proud of Armenian heritage

Club's first-round pick in '15 is also its No. 4 prospect
Special to MLB.com

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees 2015 first-round Draft choice James Kaprielian may be a kid by baseball standards, but when it comes to receiving well-wishes from his fellow Armenian Americans, the 21-year-old righty is a seasoned veteran.

"I've always received a lot of support from the Armenian community," said Kaprielian, whose native Southern California boasts the largest Armenian population in the United States.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees 2015 first-round Draft choice James Kaprielian may be a kid by baseball standards, but when it comes to receiving well-wishes from his fellow Armenian Americans, the 21-year-old righty is a seasoned veteran.

"I've always received a lot of support from the Armenian community," said Kaprielian, whose native Southern California boasts the largest Armenian population in the United States.

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"I remember in high school, maybe once a week or something we'd always get a random phone call -- someone would leave a voice mail at the house saying, 'Hey, this is so-and-so, I just wanted to call and say we heard about James, and we just want to let you know we're pulling for you guys, and the Armenian community's behind you.'

"We'd always get phone calls like that, and people would be like, 'Hey, I saw the schedule online, we're going to come out to a game,' so it was kind of cool having the community behind me like that."

Was the presence of a large Armenian community in his immediate surroundings something that he became aware of at a young age?

"Yeah, I did and I talked to my [paternal] grandparents about that because they're full Armenian and they're very proud of the Armenian community in California and they were very well aware of it as well," said Kaprielian, whose late mother, Barbara, was of German and English descent.

Video: Kaprielian on adjusting to pro ball, being a Yankee

"I'm still learning about the culture all the time," he added. "I ask my grandparents stuff all the time, and my dad and my aunt. It's all very interesting."

Among the many perks that come with being a Yankees first-round selection -- and the club's highest pick (16) since 1993 -- Kaprielian's Major League stage appears destined to be New York, the home of America's Eastern Armenian Archdiocese and tens of thousands of Armenian Americans.

"I haven't heard from any New York Armenians, at least that I know of. People reach out a lot -- I don't always know where they're from -- but I have heard that the Armenian community in New York is pretty strong, so it's something I'm excited about. It's pretty cool," said Kaprielian.

Despite the iconic, pop-culture status enjoyed by the Kardashian family, Armenian Americans often find themselves needing to explain their heritage -- and pronounce their last names.

"Yeah exactly, you're right!" said Kaprielian (pronounced Kuh-PRILL-yin) when asked if he's familiar with the dynamic.

"You always try to pronounce the last name. They're like, 'Is it Kay-PRALL-yin? Kah-PRELL-yin? And I tell them it's [Kuh-PRILL-yin] and they're like, 'OK, what kind of name is that?' And you explain that if you see the "ian" at the end of the last name, most of the time it's an Armenian last name. So a lot of the times, Armenians and other people are able to recognize by their last name if someone's Armenian or not."

When the Armenian topic of conversation veers from the cultural to the culinary, Kaprielian's eyes light up.

"I love it! When I was in the Cape Cod League … I can't think of the name of it, you're going to have to help me … I had an Armenian guy have me over for dinner and he made something that was raw meat, seasoned."

Keyma?

"That's it! Loved it. It was delicious. Of course, rice pilaf. And stuffed grape leaves [yalanchi] … that's good stuff. I love the Mediterranean food, for sure. It's good."

Kaprielian is rated as the Yankees' No. 4 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, and as he continues his ascent through the organization -- where pride has long been the central theme -- he will carry with him a keen understanding of the word, particularly as it concerns his Armenian heritage.

"Absolutely, it's part of me," he said. "It's part of who I am and it's pretty special to have a community, even though it may be a smaller community, be able to pull for a guy like me."

Michael Kolligian is a contributor to MLB.com.

New York Yankees, James Kaprielian