We’ve known about TINSTAAPP for a long time now, but just as it looks safe to believe in a pitching prospect, we are reminded that There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. James Kaprielian hasn’t pitched since April, and now it’s questionable whether or not he will pitch again in 2016.
Drafted as an advanced starting pitcher last year, it was believed that Kaprielian would be a major league pitcher before too long. Given the team’s thin pitching depth and the lack of game-changing talent on the free agent market, the development of Kaprielian seemed like an immediate and important part of the Yankees’ future.
After a dominant beginning to the 2016 season over just three starts, Kaprielian was shut down with a mysterious elbow injury. The hope was that he wouldn’t miss too much time, but he hasn’t been seen since. Then there was the hope he could play in Instructional League, but he wasn’t included on the roster (though he is still rehabbing). Then it was the Arizona Fall League. He would have avoided surgery, could get back on the mound for a bit, and then call it a season. He was added to the roster, taken back off it, and now he’s back on it; his status still up in the air at this point.
We saw the same thing a year ago with Ian Clarkin. Another promising starting pitcher who could have been an important part of the team’s future, but a mysterious lingering issue kept him out for the entire 2015 season. He made it back for the AFL and pitched this season, but the hype and the promise were somewhat faded. Then there were promising pitchers Vicente Campos and Domingo German, who came to the organization with a lot of promise, but almost immediately fell victim to injury.
Developing pitchers is hard, because even after you figure out the magic phrase to unlock their hidden talent, there’s always the risk that they will get hurt, wear down, or never be the same. More than any other player on the field, pitchers are fragile and the slightest tweak can be the difference between a long, dominant career and a career-altering injury.
Even when pitchers do work out, when TINSTAAPP is proven wrong, it can fall apart before you know it. The Mets experienced unprecedented success in developing pitching prospects with Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz coming together to create a powerful rotation of internally developed talent. However, as soon as it looked like they had accomplished the impossible, they were all mowed down with injuries and surgeries and bone spurs. As if they had outrun inevitability for too long, and now the nature of baseball had caught up with them.
The moral of the story we have learned this year is Never Pitch. You end up hurt in new inventive ways and your career takes an unfortunate turn. We wonder why the Yankees are so bad at developing pitchers, but it’s important to remember just how hard it is to be a pitcher, even if you do everything right. The Yankees are bad at developing pitchers, but so is everyone until someone works out, and that almost never happens when you look at the percentages. A lot of things can go wrong, and we have seen it happen with Kaprielian, and Ian Clarkin, and any number of others.
Hopefully things will work out soon with someone, but we can’t really be sure until it happens. Luis Severino looked great last year and was terrible in 2016. James Kaprielian looked like a sure thing until he wasn’t, and the Mets rotation was unstoppable until it wasn’t. We like to think that there is a secret key to unlock success in modern baseball, but it’s still just a guessing game, much like it has always been. Maybe we have more information available these days, but in the end it all comes down to chance.
For as many pitching prospects that have failed, there are five more ready to take his place as the next big thing. The Yankees will always have someone next in line, and if Kaprielian doesn’t work out, there will be someone else to turn to. We will see how things work out for him this fall and beyond, but it’s a harrowing realization when you have to remember that There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect.