James Kaprielian Gets Wisdom From Didi Gregorius

TAMPA, Fla.—It’s no secret that prospects who spend time with the big club have a legion of expertise at their disposal between coaches, veteran players and special instructors. Yankees righthander James Kaprielian, who was originally slated to pitch only in bullpen sessions and simulated games but wound up pitching once in the Grapefruit League, took advantage.

He picked the brains of the players you’d expect—lefty CC Sabathia and righthander Michael Pineda—and some you might not expect, such as shortstop Didi Gregorius.

“That’s my biggest thing,” he said. “To learn from not only pitchers, but guys who play positions too and be able to take as much as I can and apply it to my own game. (Didi’s) a hitter, and any time you can talk to a hitter . . . It’s a reassuring to talk to your shortstop, you know? Sometimes, as pitchers, we try to do too much, so maybe talking hitting with him and seeing his approach.

“I watched film with him for about 20 minutes one day just to get a feel for what he’s looking for and that kind of thing. It just gives you a different perspective.”

During their video session Kaprielian spoke with Gregorius about where the shortstop has had success and and where pitchers have exploited him in the past. Kaprielian can take what he learned during that session and incorporate into the way he attacks hitters as he moves into what should be his first full season as a professional after last season was limited to just three regular season starts and a trip through the Arizona Fall League because of lingering arm issues.

The Yankees farm director is Gary Denbo, who in three decades in player development has made his name for his work with hitters. He’s been the major league hitting coach for the Yankees and Blue Jays, as well as the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. So when he hears that one of his system’s brightest young arms is using his downtime to pick the brains of both pitchers and hitters, he approves.

“Some of the best pitchers I’ve ever been around always had good questions to ask hitters,” he said. “There’s all kinds of things you can learn from professional hitters about what they’re looking for, what their strengths and weaknesses are, what pitches really give them problems, what pitches don’t, locations. I think it’s a wise move on his part, saddling up next to some of those great hitters that we have in the major leagues and using them to improve his wisdom about how to pitch.”

On Sunday, Kaprielian started against Pirates minor leaguers and showed off the same arsenal he had in the fall league. He struck out six hitters over four-plus innings before reaching his pitch limit and yielding to reliever Nick Green, acquired from the Rangers in the deal that sent Carlos Beltran to Texas.

While on the mound, Kaprielian utilized a fastball that sat comfortably between 93-96 mph and touched 97 with cutting life away from righthanders. He complemented the fastball primarily with a slider in the 86-89 mph range that he manipulated at times to look like a cutter and others to behave like a true slider, diving down and in toward the feet of lefthanders. He also threw the pitch for a strike early in counts.

The same was true for his low-80s changeup, which he used twice to throw as a first-pitch strike, and also was willing to use against righthanders.

In an offseason abbreviated by six weeks in the AFL, Kaprielian continued to work to add more strength to his frame. His workout regimen also included yoga, which he said helped him increase his flexibility and core strength in an effort to be able to continually repeat his delivery. That, in turn, will help him continue to harness command of his fastball, which is one of his goals for this season.

In assessing his spring, Denbo reinforced that Kaprielian is one of the organization’s most dedicated workers.

“He’s one of the hardest working players that we have,” Denbo said. “He takes great care of himself. He’s great at preparing himself to pitch. He works very hard in the weight room. He does everything he needs to do to prepare.”

With the beginning of the minor league season less than two weeks away and a clean bill of health in hand, Kaprielian, the highest-ranked arm in the system, is ready again to begin what could be a rapid rise to the major leagues.

Dillon Tate, another arm acquired from the Rangers for Beltran, pitched in relief of big leaguer Chad Green in the high Class A group on Sunday and was inconsistent. His fastball sat in the mid-90s, but he had trouble getting the ball down in the strike zone. The same was true for both of his offspeed pitches—a slider and changeup each thrown in the low-to-mid- 80s. Tate wasn’t sharp on Sunday, and the Pirates hitters made plenty of solid contact and were able to lay off pitches out of the zone.

• Outfielder Estevan Florial—one of the most tooled-up players in the system—hit a laser beam of a home run against Pirates reliever Eduardo Vera. Blake Rutherford, playing right field, notched two more hits, including an infield single.