SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—In four starts this year, Yankees righthander James Kaprielian was dominant. He struck out 22 and walked just three in 18 innings. He also touched 99 mph with his fastball, a big jump from his days with UCLA before New York selected him with its first-round pick in 2015.
His right elbow started bothering him at the end of April, however, and he was shut down. He continued to rehab the injury, diagnosed as a strain of the flexor tendon, but eventually was scrapped for the rest of the regular season.
He got back into game action during this year’s fall instructional league, and performed well enough to earn an assignment to the Arizona Fall League, which this week began its 25th season.
He made his debut with Scottsdale on Wednesday night, and things couldn’t have gone much better. Kaprielian allowed just one hit over three shutout innings and struck out six, including four consecutive between the first and second innings.
“I wouldn’t say there were nerves, it was more excitement to get out here,” Kaprielian said. “I love being able to compete. Obviously there’s a good group of baseball players around me. It was exciting. I’m just glad to be back out here.”
His fastball sat comfortably between 94-96 mph and he worked in all three of his offspeed pitches: A slider and changeup in the high-80s, and a curveball in the low-80s. Kaprielian threw 29 of his 40 pitches for strikes, and afterward seemed very happy with his first outing in nearly six months.
“I feel good right now. It’s slowly starting to come back. I just want to take everything pitch to pitch and do what I can to improve every time I get the chance to touch the ball,” Kaprielian said. “Stuff-wise, I felt pretty good. There were a couple of mistakes in there, but sometimes you get away with it and sometimes you don’t.”
Before he’d begun pitching again in the instructional league, most of Kaprielian’s time was spent at the Yankees’ minor league complex in Tampa, Fla., watching his younger teammates in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and patiently waiting to continue on the track he began this season.
Before this season began, Kaprielian worked diligently in the offseason to pack on muscle. He added 20 pounds of it, in fact, which directly led to his increase in velocity.
And during his first pro season, spent after the draft with short-season Staten Island, evaluators who saw Kaprielian agreed that each of his offspeed pitches had a chance to be above-average to plus once fully developed. There was no consensus, however, on which secondary pitch ranked the highest.
Kaprielian takes that as a point of pride.
“I like that. The goal is to try to keep it that way,” he said. “For me, in a humble way I like to say I’m confident throwing all four pitches at any time. Whatever the catcher puts down, I’m going to try to throw it with conviction and have trust in him and my defense behind me.
“That’s the approach I take out there: to try to control and command all four pitches.”
It’s been a long road over the last six months, but Wednesday night’s return to action was filled with nothing but positives.
• Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres, acquired as the centerpiece of the trade that sent closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs, went 1-for-4 with a long home run over the bullpen in right-center field. He has also made a nifty play that required him to range to his left and make a strong throw to retire the runner.
• Torres’ teammates Greg Bird and Miguel Andujar each collected a pair of hits. Bird—who missed the 2016 season because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder—doubled twice and Andujar notched a pair of singles.
• Scottsdale outfielder and 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, in his second game, notched his first RBI on a fielder’s choice. He also struck out on a checked swing and grounded out twice. In the outfield, he handled two fly balls hit his way.
• Mets outfielder Champ Stuart showed blazing speed on a push-bunt single on which he reached first base in 3.6 seconds as part of a two-hit day. He also put that speed to good use in the outfield, where he made plenty of rangy plays to his right and left.