The Yankees continued to follow their conservative, high-floor model in the 2015 draft, selecting UCLA ace James Kaprielian with the 16th overall pick. Kaprielian was considered to be a safe bet to grow into a middle of the rotation role, making up for a lack of elite velocity with a diverse arsenal of pitches. With the Short Season-A Staten Island Yankees, he experienced an uptick in velocity, and is said to have added 15 pound of muscle over the offseason, according to Brendan Kuty at NJ.com. With an invite to Major League spring training, some are saying that Kaprielian could crack the big league roster in 2016.
Of course, there will be several obstacles along the way to the Bronx. Fortunately, it looks like the Yankees' team policy won't be one of them. In 2007, the Yankees called up 2006 1st round pick Ian Kennedy in September, after he breezed through High-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton, and Triple-A Scranton-Wilkesbarre. It should be noted that Kennedy had tremendous numbers at all three levels, but the Yankees have shown that they will allow pitchers to go as far as their ability takes them, even if it is their first full pro season.
From an innings perspective, Kaprielian also appears to be in the clear. After pitching 106.2 innings at UCLA, he threw another 23.2 in the minors, for a total of 130.1 over the 2015 season. Every team has its own policy for dealing with innings limits, but two popular schools of thought are to increase workloads by 20-25% or by 30-40 innings each year.
Recently, teams have been paying attention to "stress innings" more often, arguing that innings which force a pitcher to throw 25 or more pitches take a greater toll than simply pitching a lot of innings. If Kaprielian is as advanced as scouts say he is, he might be able to blow through High-A and Double-A hitters like Kennedy did, without accumulating too many stressful innings. There is no reason why 160-170 innings would be outside the realm of possibility for the 2016 season.
Unfortunately, Kaprielian's profile will probably the biggest impediment to his chances of seeing big league action this year. According to ESPN's Keith Law (ESPN Insider required), Kaprielian needs to work on his fastball command, while others have stressed the development of his changeup. Failing to locate his fastball will probably catch up to him well before he reaches the major leagues, but he still has plenty of time to improve in that department.
Working on his changeup might present a unique challenge, especially due to his high arm slot. Pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Sonny Gray, and Garrett Richards, who use a true over the top delivery, either don't throw changeups or use them very sparingly. This could be because their arm slot does not give them the natural arm-side run of someone throwing from a ¾ angle. Pedro Martinez, who used a sidearm delivery, used to get an insane amount of movement on his changeup, which helped him rack up strikeout after strikeout.
When over the top pitchers do throw effective off-speed pitches, they can use a splitter grip, like Tim Lincecum or Rays pitcher Jake Odorizzi. Alternatively, pitchers like Johan Santana and Toronto's Marco Estrada will routinely get 10 mph of separation between their fastball and changeup, without visibly slowing their arm speed. In order to develop his changeup, Kaprielian will likely need to do go one of these two routes.
If Kaprielian dominates the lower levels of the minors straight out of the gate, there is a solid chance that he makes his big league debut in 2016. For all of the concerns about his fastball command and changeup, Kaprielian posted excellent peripheral numbers at UCLA, with two consecutive seasons of more than 9 K/9 and less than three BB/9. Kaprielian will probably begin the regular season at High-A Tampa, but where he finishes the season is up to him.