With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Yankees squad each day this week. Today's topic: Who might surprise?
Prospects typically do not jump in the rankings after missing most of the previous season due to injury. James Kaprielian is not your typical prospect, and that's why the right-hander might be able to surprise some observers and accelerate his path to the big leagues this spring.
The Yankees will get their first look at Kaprielian when pitchers and catchers work out on Feb. 15. The first full squad workout is on Feb. 19.
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Kaprielian was the 16th overall pick in the Draft two years ago out of UCLA, and there was talk of him being on a fast track as he lit up radar guns during his first Spring Training last year. After returning from a right elbow flexor strain to hit 97 mph in the Arizona Fall League, Kaprielian's confidence seems to be in midseason form.
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"I want to be a No. 1. I want to be the guy and I want the ball," Kaprielian said during the Yankees' Winter Warm-Up. "I'm a competitor. I'm not going to go out of my way [to announce that] unless you ask me, but yeah, I want the ball. I want to be the guy. I want to be the ace. There's a lot of guys in our organization who are like that."
Kaprielian turns 23 in March, and he was one of seven Yankees farmhands to appear in MLB Pipeline's ranking of the game's Top 100 prospects, jumping to No. 58 despite being limited to 18 innings last April with Class A Advanced Tampa, where he struck out 22 against just three walks.
Kaprielian was considered more of a pitchability right-hander with a ceiling of a No. 3 starter when New York drafted him, securing his services with a $2.65 million signing bonus. That may prove to have been a bargain, as scouts watching his Fall League performance saw Kaprielian show front-line stuff.
Kaprielian spent most of his summer rehabbing at the Yankees' Minor League complex in Tampa, Fla., and he said he was encouraged when young players like Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge scored their chances to impress.
"It's a fun thing to watch," Kaprielian said. "Seeing those guys work, knowing who they are personally as people, watching those guys go about their work and getting the opportunity that they have is really good for them. To be able to kind of be in the back seat and see that, it gives hope to the rest of us younger guys."
The Yankees project to have a crowded mix of contenders for their rotation this spring, with Chance Adams, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino and Adam Warren all having been listed among those who could break camp in the starting five. Some of the runners-up will grab bullpen jobs.
Given that competition and Kaprielian's relative inexperience (he still has just 29 innings of pro ball under his belt), it is unlikely that manager Joe Girardi would have Kaprielian break camp on the Opening Day roster. Still, a strong Grapefruit League showing could force the Yankees to advance his timetable.
"I haven't had that conversation with them," Kaprielian said. "My job's not really to worry about that kind of stuff. I'm going to let them control that aspect of the game. For me, do I want to be in the big leagues? Absolutely. I'm going to work every day to compete with the guys around me and get the guys around me better."