Pitchers and catchers reported to camp earlier this week. Traditionally the opening day of spring training is little more than a formality. Players take their physicals, talk to the media, and that’s about it. Very little baseball news actually makes it out of the complex. While this is mostly true for the 2017 Yankees, there was also an added level of intrigue, as the club fields several top pitching prospects.
James Kaprielian, the most heralded of the bunch, draws the most attention. Despite missing nearly the entire 2016 season with an elbow injury, Keith Law ranked Kaprielian as the 28th best prospect in baseball. He also cracked the top prospect lists of Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com, checking in at 58 on both lists. A consensus top 100 pitching prospect makes for excitement, but it’s what Jack Curry reported on Tuesday that really raises eyebrows.
Naehring said Kaprielian could have reached majors in 2016 if he hadn't injured elbow. Kap was aware of remark. Lamented that he got injured— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) February 14, 2017
But, if Yankees thought Kaprielian has a chance to ascend to majors in 2016, have to believe they feel same away about him in 2017.— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) February 14, 2017
As a polished college right-hander with four pitches, it was expected that Kaprielian would quickly climb through the organization. Making his major league debut a year after he was drafted wasn’t out of the question. That became especially clear when Kaprielian experienced an uptick in velocity. “You sit behind home plate and you watch him pitch and he looks like a big-leaguer right now,” said General Manager Brian Cashman.
Could this be the year that Kaprielian pitches in the Bronx? Given the state of the Yankees starting pitchers, and the increasing reliance on young players, it’s fairly possible. We already know that two of the five rotation spots will go to in-house options. If one of those pitchers stumbles down the stretch and Kaprielian is carving up Triple-A batters, a swap would make sense. The Yankees did this in 2015 with Luis Severino, after all.
Expectations, however, should be tempered. The Yankees will put the health and development of Kaprielian first, as they should. He’s one of the centerpieces of the youth movement. They will err on the side of caution at almost every decision point, even if he’s pitching well.
It’s important for Yankees fans to keep this in mind as the season unfolds. It will be easy to get frustrated if Kaprielian starts the year in extended spring training, or if he’s limited to a handful of innings per start. If the Yankees are a starting pitcher away from competition for a Wild Card spot, adding Kaprielian to the rotation could seem an even more appealing option. Cashman and the front office will do what’s best for his development, however, even if that means doing something unpopular. You could imagine the outcry if the Yankees shut Kaprielian down in September because he reached his innings limit, despite being healthy for a call-up.
The last two seasons have been fun for Yankees fans because the team is willing to go young. The front office collected an impressive cache of prospects and hasn’t shied away from playing them. The 2017 season figures to accelerate this trend, and that’s exciting. If Kaprielian is healthy and developed enough to make it to The Show, then that’s all the more reason for excitement. If the Yankees play it cautiously, however, it’s important to remember why. These things take time, even for players with talent like Kaprielian.