TAMPA, Fla.—Within the last week, the Yankees have revamped their farm system. What was an intriguing collection of talent moves toward the elite with the pickups of 11 prospects through the course of three trades.
Among the new additions were three Midseason Top 100 Prospects—former Indians outfielder Clint Frazier (No. 21), former Cubs shortstop Gleyber Torres (No. 27) and former Indians lefthander Justus Sheffield (No. 69).
Also included was Dillon Tate, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 draft, a righthander from UC Santa Barbara with high upside but whose stock had fallen this season after hamstring injuries and a corresponding velocity drop.
With all the new talent coming aboard, it’s easy to forget that the Yankees already had an excellent core of players at the top of their system. Namely, their farm was led by shortstop Jorge Mateo, catcher Gary Sanchez, outfielder Aaron Judge and righthander James Kaprielian.
Each of that quartet has had ups and downs this season. Mateo has shown tools while adjusting to high Class A pitching, but was suspended for two weeks for a violation of team rules that also cost him a spot in this year’s Futures Game. Sanchez has continued to show the offensive potential but also missed time with a broken thumb. Judge, too, has had highs and lows, and hurt his knee during a particular hot streak. He’s reportedly near a return to action.
Kaprielian, however, has missed the most time this year. He made three starts before feeling a twinge in his right elbow. Fortunately, the diagnosis was inflammation and not a torn ligament that would have required Tommy John surgery to repair.
Even so, his rehabilitation process has been prolonged and has required a reset in the middle. He hasn’t pitched since April 21, but hasn’t let the time away from the field dampen his spirits.
‘It’s going well. I’m feeling good right now, on a throwing program and just looking forward to getting back to full strength and being healthy,” he said while watching the Yankees and Phillies Rookie-level Gulf Coast League teams square off at New York’s minor league complex on Monday afternoon.
“We’re still just progressing slowly,” Kaprielian said. “We don’t want to overdo it. We also want to go about it the right way. We’re able to push certain things harder now in the rehab process with the actual trainers and rehab stuff. We’re taking our time, but we’re being smart about it and it’s getting better.”
Perhaps more frustrating, before the injury Kaprielian was showing top shelf stuff and getting the corresponding results. With a four-pitch mix led by a fastball that had touched the upper-90s, he’d whiffed 22 in 18 innings and permitted just eight hits and three walks.
The velocity spike in particular was interesting. He’d added several ticks to a fastball that had bumped 95 mph at UCLA. The reason for the jump, he said, was the product of hard, smart work in the gym in the offseason.
“There’s been a progression of a lot of things. I worked really hard this offseason back home with the guys I was with. I was fortunate enough to work out with a lot of guys who are big leaguers right now,” he said.
“I picked their brains, learned from them and watched them throw, learned their routines. I put 20 pounds of weight on and got stronger. All sorts of things. I was able to clean up my mechanics and become more functional and become more flexible and I think a lot of things applied.”
He’s gotten to take a couple of brief trips back home to California, but otherwise has hung around the team’s back fields watching the younger players. Whether he’s physically rehabbing or doing mental conditioning, Kaprielian’s ultimate goal this season is simply to get back on the mound and on the road to the major leagues.
It’s unlikely he’ll pitch in the regular season again, but the door is open to get innings in the fall instructional league or in the Arizona Fall League, where prospects making up for lost time is commonplace.
“I just want to be able to pitch and help the organization, obviously,” he said, “and get back to doing what I do. The only thing I can do is focus on getting healthy, taking it day by day and do what I can do with my throwing program and my rehab.”
After a frenzied few days, the Yankees system has become flush with talent. Beginning as soon as possible, Kaprielian wants to continue to prove he belongs among that group’s elite.