Some stories need no glossy introduction. The Yankees lost top-prospect James Kaprielian to the minor league disabled list yesterday. According to the team, he experienced right elbow discomfort and will undergo a dye contrast MRI. General Manager Brian Cashman confirmed that the pain presented in the same area that cost the right-hander most of the 2016 season. It’s hard to not feel dejected by the news.
Kaprielian stands out as the team’s top minor league pitching talent. Keith Law ranked him as the 28th best prospect in baseball heading into the season. Losing him to injury affects the team on multiple levels. Jack Curry previously noted that a successful year could have resulted in a big league debut later this summer. The already thin pitching depth chart took a substantial hit. It also forces the Yankees front office to grapple with an essential rebuilding question: At what point are prospects best utilized as trade chips?
Over the course of the last several months, the Yankees have collected an impressive cache of prospects. A middling farm system skyrocketed to the top of the pack. Not all of these players will make it to the big leagues, however. Attrition inevitably take a merciless toll. Some prospects will get hurt, others will take steps backwards in their development. That’s why it makes sense to remain active on the trade market. No team wants to be left holding on to their chips for too long.
Early in the offseason, I wrote that the Yankees shouldn’t hesitate when it came to trading prospects in general. Some rumors fluttered here or there, but no action came of it. The team made the decision to hold on to the young talent. While it remains too early to know if this strategy paid off, the volatile nature of prospects is beginning to show.
It’s also not yet fair to claim that Kaprielian’s elbow specifically burned the Yankees. We don’t have conclusive test results nor knowledge of the front office’s inner-dialogue. That said, his injury should trigger warning lights for the club. Trade prospects or risk the pile-up of busts.
Health stands out as one of the keys to building a ball club. That’s what made the dynasty era teams so impressive. Not all of the prospects will pan out in terms of health, however, and they would best serve the team by returning established big leaguers. There will inevitably be misses. That’s the nature of baseball. At the same time, this shouldn’t scare the Yankees off. They need to dig in and see the rebuild through, as Jake Devin recently wrote. Some risks prove worth taking.
The early stages of the Yankees’ rebuild came together quickly. Best case scenarios played out. It only gets more difficult from here. The Yankees must now decide which prospects are worth hanging on to and which ones are expendable. The Kaprielian injury won’t create a knee-jerk reaction, no trades will happen immediately, but it should kickstart discussions. The Yankees encountered their first rebuilding roadblock this week. Their reaction will speak volumes about its possible outcome.