Yankees right-handed starting pitcher James Kaprielian, 21, pictured above in his UCLA days, has already turned the heads of team officials before spring training starts
By Brendan Kuty
That’s why the organization spent its highest draft pick since 1993 — the No. 16 overall selection — on the UCLA right-hander last June, and why they believe he’ll shoot through their farm system and contribute in the Bronx sooner than later.
But Kaprielian has recently shown some feel in an area that the Yankees might not have expected. Or at least not this soon.
“He’s shown some leadership ability among the players,” Yankees vice president of player development, Gary Denbo, told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday. “He’s been a big part of things here (in Captains Camp) and he’s another guy we think that, over the long term, has an excellent chance to be part of our major league rotation.”
Kaprielian, 21, will be among the youngest report to the Yankees’ major league spring training this year. Only 20-year-old shortstop Jorge Mateo — widely viewed as the club’s top prospect — is younger. Shortstop Tyler Wade and outfielderDustin Fowler are each 21, too.
Kaprielian was invited — along with the others — to Captains Camp, a weeks-long program aimed at developing what the Yankees consider championship-quality characteristics as well as on-field skills.
That speaks volumes about how the Yankees feel when it comes to Kaprielian, who, at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, has also impressed Denbo with his athleticism.
“We have to give a lot of credit to our amateur scouting department and (vice president and director of amateur scouting) Damon Oppenheimer,” Denbo said. “They did a great job of identifying James and he has come into camp this spring in top physical condition. He’s in great shape and he obviously has the tools to be very successful at a high level.”
Of course, Kaprielian doesn’t have much professional experience. He’s appeared in just five games — two in the Gulf Coast League and three at short-season Staten Island. But he’s pitched well throughout his time in front of Yankees’ personnel, including during instructional league play, Denbo said.
“He’s shown the ability to locate his fastball,” Denbo said. “His breaking ball has the chance to be a plus pitch for him. The change up also has improved the more he’s pitched and will as he develops. He’s shown improvement in velocity in the course of last season.”