Kaprielian nets Yanks' highest pick since '93
UCLA right-hander could find future home in club's rotation
NEW YORK -- For the second consecutive year, the Yankees used their first selection in the Draft on a college pitcher who may be fast-tracked to help them at the Major League level in the very near future.
Making their highest pick since 1993, the Yankees used the 16th overall selection Monday on right-hander James Kaprielian from UCLA. The 21-year-old has been rated by scouts as a safe bet to develop into a mid-rotation starter in the big leagues.
"I was very excited," Kaprielian said. "Obviously, the Yankees are a special organization, so to hear your name be called by them -- especially on the first day of the Draft -- was very exciting. You never really know who's completely sold on you or very interested in you, but to hear my name, it was extremely exciting for me and my family."
A 6-foot-4, 200-pounder, Kaprielian concluded his junior season with a 10-4 record and a 2.03 ERA (24 earned runs in 106 2/3 innings) in 17 games (16 starts). He led the Pac-12 Conference with 114 strikeouts and issued 33 walks, averaging 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
In both his sophomore (2014) and junior (2015) seasons, Kaprielian was named to the All-Pac-12 Conference first team after leading the conference in strikeouts both seasons. He was also selected to be a 2015 second-team All-America by Collegiate Baseball, and is being represented by the Scott Boras agency.
"Kaprielian is a guy we've scouted for a long time, and we're really happy we were able to get him," said Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees' vice president of domestic amateur scouting. "He has three quality pitches, throws strikes and generates a lot of swings and misses. On top of that, he has great make-up."
On May 15 of this season, Kaprielian threw nine of the Bruins' 10 no-hit innings vs. Arizona, combining for the first no-hitter in school history. Kaprielian was also named the USA Baseball Performer of the Year after pitching for the USA Collegiate National Team in 2014.
"He compiled a quality track record in a good league and performed well for Team USA," Oppenheimer said.
Kaprielian said that he once visited the old Yankee Stadium and already has some loose connections to the organization.
He hails from Tustin, Calif., also the hometown of former Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes, and Kaprielian has been compared to right-hander Ian Kennedy in terms of his stuff and approach against hitters. He said that Mariano Rivera is a personal favorite from his fan days.
"The Yankees are a team I loved watching when I was younger," Kaprielian said. "Obviously, there's a rich history in the organization and they were one of my favorite teams. I remember being on Little League teams when my dad was my coach and we were always the Yankees. It's pretty cool that it actually worked out this way."
Kaprielian works with an 89-92-mph fastball as a starter, and his best pitch is his changeup. Kaprielian also features a solid slider and a curveball, and was previously selected in the 40th round by the Mariners before deciding to attend UCLA.
The last time the Yankees were slotted higher than No. 16 overall was 22 years ago, when they selected right-hander Matt Drews with the 13th overall pick. Drews pitched seven professional seasons but did not make it to the Majors.
In 2014, the Yankees' first selection was left-hander Jacob Lindgren (55th overall) from Mississippi State University. The reliever was fast-tracked and, after just 46 2/3 Minor League innings, is currently part of the Yanks' big league bullpen.
"That's not really up to me. That's up to the Yankees," Kaprielian said. "They're going to be the ones to determine where I end up; them and my representatives. I'm just excited about this and still just enjoying this moment with my family. Whenever they feel I'm ready, that will be the time."