Scouting the Free Agent Market: Wei-Yin Chen

(Getty Images)

Recently, reports indicated that the Yankees will pursue the free agent lefty Wei-Yin Chen. The team’s interest in adding starting pitching in general is not surprising. As Mike and many others noted, the rotation is full of question marks.

I will elaborate on this later but Wei-Yin Chen isn’t really a guy that brings uncertainty. He’s a solid mid-rotation pitcher that shows up, pitches solidly more often than not, but does not fit into that “ace” mold. He’s shown that for four seasons in MLB. Yanks probably won’t need to break a bank to get him a la David Price or Johnny Cueto, but he won’t be too cheap either (Boras client, market likes paying big bucks for a starting pitcher, etc.). It will all come down to how highly the front office thinks of Chen and how much they are willing to pay. (Also, if they want to sacrifice a draft pick for him, of course)

Recent Performance

Barring a major injury or sudden decline, Wei-Yin Chen seems like he would perform as expected. In four ML seasons, Chen was a solid mid-rotation starter for the Baltimore Orioles. He compiled 9.5 fWAR in four seasons, averaging around 2.4 per season. Steamer projects him for a 2.6 fWAR season in 2016, which sounds about right.

In those four seasons, Chen posted all-around consistent peripherals: strikeout rate around 7.00 K/9, walk rate around 2.00 BB/9 and allowing dingers once in awhile (1.24 HR/9 in ML career). He’s also not a ground ball pitcher at all with a 38.5% GB rate. Barring a sudden change in approach, his style as a pitcher is pretty apparent: a control guy with an average strikeout ability who gives up fly balls.

There are two things in Chen’s performance that saw improvements though: LOB% and ERA. Well, those two things are very positively correlated so I’ll focus mainly on LOB% here. After posting a 72.8% LOB in 2012, which is right around league average, Chen improved steadily with runners on base with 76.0% in 2013, 77.5% in 2014 and 80.5% in 2015. That’s a pretty nice number for a starting pitcher, especially considering that Chen doesn’t really strike out hitters that much.

Chen had Camden Yards as his home stadium for past four years. That venue, by the way, has a park factor of 117, an extreme hitter’s park. Give the man a cookie. However, if he were to be a Yankee, it wouldn’t get much easier – YSIII has park factor of 119. Chen had a HR/9 rate of 1.32 this past season, which is not great. Unless if he undergoes a major overhaul in his arsenal and approach, don’t expect Chen to lower his home run rate under 1.00/9 anytime soon. I wouldn’t say he’s getting killed by long balls – but he is susceptible to it.

Luke Jackson, a Baltimore-based sportswriter (@luke_jackson10 on Twitter), pointed out few more kinks in Chen’s game. First off, he is not great against right-handed batters. In 2015, he allowed a .217/.250/.326 line against lefties but a .270/.318/.496 line against righties. He allowed 97 home runs total in his ML career and a whopping 79 of them have come off RHB’s. The split is quite stark, if you ask me. Buck Showalter, his manager with the Orioles, started Chen only twice versus the righty-heavy Blue Jays lineup in four years (none this year), which is incredible.

For what it’s worth, Chen also has three ML playoff starts under his belt. He beat the Yankees in 2012 ALDS Game 2 (6.1 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K), got hit around by the Tigers in the 2014 ALDS (3.2 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 K, 2 HR allowed) and pitched a decent one against the Royals in the 2014 ALCS (5.1 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K).

The Stuff

Here is a YouTube video of all the pitches Chen threw in a July 12 game versus the Washington Nationals.

Here’s his velocity tabular data from Brooks Baseball.

Wei-Yin Chen velocity

The Taiwanese lefty threw 65.6% of all pitches as fastballs and that approach didn’t seem to change at all through out the years. He mixes in a slider, curve and split/change as different weapons to show hitters. None of his pitches are considered elite but they are good enough to get by as a solid starter in ML.

According to Pitch f/x, Chen will use his fastball pretty much everywhere in the zone. He likes to bury his slider and curve towards RHB’s feet and away from LHB’s. As for split/change, he throws it below the strike zone – or keeping it middle-away from RHB’s. Doesn’t seem like he has a trademark killer pitch but he seems to have a strategy with different pitches to face hitters.

Injury History

This is an interesting one. In the states, the only instance of Chen missing an extended amount of time was in 2013 with an oblique injury. Otherwise, he’s been able to start 30+ games each year. However, if you look beyond his MLB career, he’s been through few issues in NPB days.

Chen underwent a Tommy John surgery back in 2006. In 2011, he saw overall decrease in velocity after suffering a lower body injury preseason. Even though he had a solid 2.68 ERA, he struck out considerably much less hitters (94 in 164.2 IP) than before (153 in 188 IP in 2010). Here’s a video of a 2011 start – fastball sits more around the high-80’s, which is several notches below his usual self. Considering that he posted an eye-popping 1.54 ERA in 164 IP in 2009, had he been able to showcase his best stuff in 2011, he might have been targeted with much higher offers than the three-year, $11.3 million contract (with a 2015 team option) that he got from Baltimore.

So his injury history isn’t perfect but he’s shown he’s capability of handling the Major League schedule, which is longer than the NPB one. Well, his record faltered towards the later months of both 2012 and 2013 seasons but he held his own in late stretches in 2014 and 2015. Signing a pitcher for a long-term contract will always come with some kind of injury risk but it’s good to know that Chen does not quite seem Pavano-ian in terms of visiting the disabled list.

(Getty Images)

Contract Projections

It’s been said that Chen wants a five-year deal, possibly six. I don’t know if he will necessarily get that length but given that 1) he’s a Boras client, and 2) there are a lot of teams hungry for solid starting pitching in the market, it’s not really out of the realm of possibility. I think there will be a good amount of teams comfortable giving him four years but the one that will offer him the fifth will come out as the winner. Will New York be that one? I don’t know.

He’s basically the best lefty starter in the market not named David Price. Teams that want a starter but not at Price, Zimmermann, Cueto, etc. prices will most likely consider Chen at some point, so yeah, I feel like him getting a big contract as a result of a bidding war is very much a possibility.

One major knock against pursuing Chen is that he was offered the qualifying offer from the Orioles and, of course, he declined it, meaning that Yankees would have to give up their first rounder if they were to sign him. Here are some projections/predictions of his next contract from different publications:

If you had told me back in the 2011-12 offseason that Chen would someday get a contract five times bigger than what the O’s gave him, I would have been pretty skeptical. But hey, life works that kind of way for some. The Orioles got an absolute steal in Chen and now he’s looking to get paid. A deal around five years, $80 million does not seem like an outrageous outcome at all.

Wrapping Up

I think Chen could be a very serviceable starter for the Yankees. He’s shown consistency as a solid mid-rotation starter in the same division and in a hitter’s park. At least for the first two or three years of the contract, Chen will be a nice guy to go for most days of the week.

He definitely won’t come cheap for Yankees though – in more ways than one. First off, he’ll get a big contract. He will be an attractive commodity to teams that aren’t willing to spend Cueto/Price money on FA starters and, in my opinion, that will certainly create some kind of bidding war, which could drive the price up higher than a lot of us could foresee. Once a team wins the bidding, then they’d have to give up a draft pick. New York could definitely get extra wins by having Chen for next few years versus not having him, but at what cost?

My gut feeling says that Yankees will monitor the market for Chen for awhile and, at some point, the price will go out of their comfort range. We’ll see how it goes though.

Brett Gardner and the Tale of Two Seasons [2015 Season Review]


The Yankees had a lot of players coming into the season with health and performance concerns, and Brett Gardner was no exception. The team’s longest tenured non-A-Rod player played through an abdominal injury in the second half last year, an injury so bad it required offseason surgery. The surgery came with a four-week recovery time and Gardner was 100% come Spring Training.

With Derek Jeter retired, Gardner was certain to hit near the top of the lineup in 2015 after being the club’s best offensive player a year ago. (His 111 wRC+ led guys who were with the Yankees for all of 2014.) Whether he hit leadoff or second really didn’t matter. Gardner was one of the team’s best hitters and there was now a clear path to at-bats at the top of the order, which was a step in the right direction for an offense in need of help.

A Normal Spring

Abdominal injuries — Gardner had surgery to repair a core muscle near his ribs, specifically — are a pretty big deal in baseball. In all sports, really. Hitting and throwing requires a lot of quick-twitch movements. Gardner had no physical problems in camp but he didn’t hit at all: .186/.294/.220 with 16 strikeouts in 22 Grapefruit League games. Did anyone even mention that? I don’t remember that being talked about at all. Either way, Gardner was healthy and in the lineup come Opening Day, because duh.

An All-Star First Half

When the season started, Joe Girardi opted to use Jacoby Ellsbury at leadoff and Gardner as his No. 2 hitter. There was really no bad way to order them as far as I was concerned. As long as those two hit in the top two spots of the lineup, the Yankees were good. The first of the team’s 764 runs in 2015 came on Opening Day, on Gardner’s sixth inning solo home run.

That was the only run the Yankees scored in the Opening Day loss to the Blue Jays. Gardner nearly went deep in the first inning too, but Jose Bautista made a nice jumping catch at the wall. Here’s the video.

The Opening Day home run was the start of an outstanding first half for Gardner. He basically never slumped. Only four times in the first half did Gardner go back-to-back games without a hit and he never once went three straight games without a hit. He started the season by reaching base in each of his first eleven games and in 31 of his first 32 games. From April 18th through May 15th, a span of 25 games, Gardner reached base 40 times.

During his best hot streak of the season, an eleven-game stretch in late-June, Gardner went 25-for-50 (.500) with seven doubles, a triple, and four home runs. That’s a .500/.545/.920 (300 wRC+) batting line. It’s both an extremely small sample and cool as hell. The performance helped earn Gardner a spot on the AL All-Star Final Vote ballot, though he was later named to the All-Star Team as an injury replacement for Alex Gordon.

Gardner went 3-for-5 with a home run that afternoon. He came off the bench in the All-Star Game in Cincinnati and went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts against Clayton Kershaw and Mark Melancon, his former teammate at several levels. He also played one inning in left field and three in center.

Gardner finished the first half with a .302/.377/.484 (137 wRC+) batting line. He had ten homers and 15 stolen bases, making him the only AL player with 10+ homers and 15+ steals at the break. Also, Mike Trout (179 wRC+), Nelson Cruz (154 wRC+), J.D. Martinez (146 wRC+), and Bautista (138 wRC+) were the only AL outfielders with better offensive production in the first half. Gardner was a monster. The Yankees scored a lot of runs in the first half and he was a huge reason why.

A Disaster Second Half

Believe it or not, Gardner started the second half fairly well, going 10-for-39 (.256) with a homer and more walks (nine) than strikeouts (eight) in his first eleven games after the break. It all collapsed from there. Gardner put up a .208/.304/.257 (60 wRC+) line in August then a .198/.271/.321 (62 wRC+) line in September (and October). Ice cold like too many of his teammates.

Gardner hit six home runs in the second half and three of them came on the same day. The Yankees played a doubleheader against the Blue Jays on September 12th, and Gardner went 4-for-9 with three homers and a walk on the day. He drove in seven of their 12 runs in the doubleheader.

The overall numbers are ugly. Gardner hit .206/.300/.292 (66 wRC+) in the second half, dragging his overall season slash line down to a still respectable .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+). He stole 15 bases (18 attempts) in the first half and only five (seven attempts) in the second half. Brett was two totally different players in 2015. He was unbelievable in the first half. Legitimately one of the most productive outfielders in baseball. Then, in the second half, he ranked 145th out of 156 qualified hitters with that 66 wRC+.

Gardner started the wildcard game in the leadoff spot — Ellsbury was benched against Dallas Keuchel in favor of lefty masher Chris Young — and went 0-for-4 with three ugly strikeouts. He grounded out in the eighth inning and heard loud boos from the Yankee Stadium crowd, which was dumb, but whatever. Fans were frustrated. The Yankees went from leading the AL East (by seven games!) to barely hanging on to a wildcard spot and Gardner’s disaster second half was a huge factor.

Before & After

Something changed this season. There has to be an explanation for Gardner going from great in the first half to a replacement level in the second half. Realistically, his true talent is somewhere in between the two halves. In fact, it’s right where he finished the season. Gardner hit .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+) in 2015 after hitting .267/.350/.397 (108 wRC+) as an everyday player from 2010-14, so yeah.

The easy way out would be to blame it on simple regression. He was so insanely hot in the first half and then the other shoe dropped, bringing his numbers where they belonged. That is … unsatisfying. For instance, we know Gardner had some kind of wrist injury this year. We don’t know how much it affected his performance, but it would be silly to ignore it. Wrist injuries are kind of a big deal.

We know the raw stats, the 137 wRC+ in the first half followed by the 66 wRC+ in the second half. Let’s look at some batted ball data to see if anything else was going on.

Brett Gardner batted ball

Gardner hit considerably more fly balls in the second half than he did in the first half, which at least somewhat explains going from a .363 BABIP to a .247 BABIP. Fly balls are bad for BABIP business.

Even worse for BABIP business: not hitting the ball hard. Gardner’s hard contact rate fell big time after the All-Star break — he had a 27.5% hard contact rate from 2013-14, so his first half number isn’t unusual, but his second half number is way down — and that’s another BABIP killer. Unless you can expertly place the ball like peak Ichiro Suzuki, less hard contact generally leads to fewer hits. The wrist could be one possible explanation.

Gardner’s spray rates didn’t change much. He’s always been pretty good at hitting to all fields and in the second half he hit some more balls back up the middle rather than the other way to left field. That’s not really a huge deal in my opinion. Had Gardner suddenly started pulling like 50% of his balls in play, that would be a red flag. There’s only a slight change. No biggie.

More fly balls and less hard contact is a really good way to reduce offensive production. I can’t explain why it happened — I’m not even sure Gardner and the Yankees can explain it right now — but it happened. It would be nice if the wrist was behind all this, that way we could point to an injury and simply wait for it to heal. Injuries are a pretty good excuse most of the time.

It could also be that Gardner wore himself down in the first half. He has a history of being better in the first half — career 115 wRC+ before the All-Star break and 88 wRC+ after — and a few reports this summer indicated the Yankees are concerned Gardner’s hard-nosed style of play causes him to wear down late in the season. That’s a plausible explanation too. It also could be Gardner was a mechanical mess and lost his swing. It happens.

My guess as to the cause of Gardner’s second half fade: everything. It was a little of everything. The wrist, being worn down, some swing issues, some poor ball-in-play luck, everything. This could all be connected too — the wrist injury led to bad hitting mechanics, etc. I don’t think Gardner is suddenly a true talent 66 wRC+ hitter. He didn’t forget how to hit during the All-Star break. Something happened and I don’t know what.

Looking Ahead to 2016

There have been more than a few Gardner trade rumors this winter — we know the Yankees have talked to the Mariners about him — and while that’s nothing new, it does seem like there is a bit more validity to them this year. He’s one of their few (only?) movable veteran players and the Yankees would be able to replace him internally after picking up Aaron Hicks. For now, Gardner remains the team’s starting left fielder. I think a trade is a very real possibility though.

If the Yankees are planning to spend when huge contracts end, they should do it this offseason instead

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

It’s the offseason, which means we’re seeing constant updates about the Yankees and how they don’t want to spend money or trade their best prospects or give up their first round draft pick. We hear the same stuff every offseason and inevitably the Yankees do some of that, either spend money or give up prospects. They can’t not do anything, not when they continue to push “World Series or bust” mantra.

The offseason is still young and the Yankees have made just one notable move so far, swapping John Ryan Murphy for Aaron Hicks. They’re trying to get younger so trades figure to be the focus this winter — just like they were the focus last winter — because that’s how you get younger. Free agents aren’t young. They’ve put their 6+ years in and have earned the right to test the open market. Guys in their mid-20s like Jason Heyward are extremely rare.

The Yankees had relatively little money come off the books this year, roughly $20M total between a bunch of low cost one-year contract guys (Stephen Drew, Chris Capuano, Chris Young, Garrett Jones). Next year some of the huge contracts begin to expire. Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran will be free agents next offseason, then Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia come off the books the offseason after that.

“The last couple of years, the money that has come off, we’ve had to put it back in,” said Hal Steinbrenner to Ken Davidoff. “Fill voids because we haven’t had the young players to do it with. The guys that we picked up two years ago, the McCanns and the Ellsburys, they’ve been great. Glad we did it. A couple of years from now, the payroll situation will be different. I’ll have flexibility. We will be active on the free agent market. We always are. But I’ve got other options.”

Between Teixeira and Beltran, the Yankees will dump $40M or so in payroll next winter. Another $50M or so disappears thanks to A-Rod and Sabathia the following year. That’s an awful lot of money. But where does that money go? Hal can say they “will be active on the free agent market,” but have you seen the upcoming free agent classes? Here’s my quick ranking of next offseason’s top ten free agents:

  1. Stephen Strasburg – really great when healthy
  2. Carlos Gomez – kind of annoying but really good
  3. Jose Bautista – like the Blue Jays are letting him leave
  4. Kenley Jansen – like the Dodgers are letting him leave
  5. Edwin Encarnacion – he’s a DH
  6. Adrian Beltre – he’ll be 37 in April
  7. Justin Turner – looks like a human-sized leprechaun
  8. Matt Wieters – oh geez
  9. I got nothing
  10. Really, that’s it

So yeah, the Yankees are freeing up a boatload of cash soon, but quality free agents aren’t going to magically appear just because the Yankees have money to spend. If anything, the 2016-17 free agent class will only get worse because a few of the actual good players will sign extensions.

The more I think about it, the more I believe the Yankees need to look at this free agent class as their best opportunity to bring in quality players for nothing but cash over the next few years. They could really use a high-end starter, and right now guys like David Price and Zack Greinke and Jordan Zimmermann are available. Next year it’s Strasburg and Jered Weaver. Want a second baseman? Either sign Ben Zobrist or Howie Kendrick now or pretend Martin Prado is comparable next year.

The Yankees have not increased payroll significantly in a decade now, which is both total crap and something we can’t do anything about. Hal Steinbrenner has established his payroll comfort zone in that $200M to $220M range — well, aside from the fact he’s made it clear he wants to get under the luxury tax threshold as soon as possible — and if the Yankees are going to stick to that next year, they won’t be signing any notable free agents this offseason. The math doesn’t work.

For the Yankees to take advantage of this deep free agent class, Hal would have to step out of his payroll comfort zone for a year before the bigger contracts come off the books next winter. Live with a bigger than usual payroll in 2016 before things return to normal in 2017 and beyond. Spending the savings now, basically. It’s either that or sit out the best free agent class in years and look for other ways to improve the team in future offseasons.

The Yankees have gotten burned by big money contracts and I get that. I’m actually in favor of avoiding huge money long-term deals for guys at or over 30. There are very valid baseball reasons to not sign, say, David Price. Heyward is a special case because of his age and a long-term contract makes sense for him. Otherwise the mid-range free agents are where the Yankees can benefit the most, guys like Zobrist or Hisashi Iwakuma, who likely could be had for high-salary three-year deals. (Iwakuma might take two years.) The money’s not really the issue — at least it shouldn’t be for the Yankees — the years are the sticking point.

Long story short, the upcoming free agent classes stink and there won’t be many good places for the Yankees to spend the Teixeira, Beltran, Sabathia, and A-Rod savings. The smart thing to do in my opinion is to target free agents this offseason — get the help you need to contend and maybe actually win a postseason game — and live with the high payroll for a year. (That’s easy for me to say, of course.) Waiting for the contracts to come off the books before spending comes with a high opportunity cost. They’ll miss out on a lot of good players who fill obvious needs.

Dallas Keuchel wins 2015 AL Cy Young award; Miller and Betances get votes

(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)
(Eric Christian Smith/Getty)

Thanks in part to his dominance of the Yankees, Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel was named the 2015 AL Cy Young award winner tonight. Tigers and Blue Jays southpaw David Price finished a relatively close second while Athletics righty Sonny Gray finished third. The full voting results are at the BBWAA’s site.

Both Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances received down-ballot Cy Young votes. Miller received one fourth place vote and one fifth place vote, finishing tenth overall. Betances received one fifth place vote and finished 14th in the voting. No other Yankees received Cy Young votes, as expected. None of the starters had a good case for even a fifth place vote.

Cubs righty Jake Arrieta between out Dodgers co-aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke for the NL Cy Young. The MVPs will be announced tomorrow night. The Yankees do not have any finalists, but as with the Cy Young, I’m sure one or two players will get down-ballot votes. Someone will vote for Alex Rodriguez, right?

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Here’s a fun David Schoenfield post highlighting ten interesting nuggets from the latest Bill James Handbook. Apparently pitchouts are dying. It’s close to impossible to notice while watching games but the numbers show teams are calling fewer pitchouts than ever before. Also, no one throws 125+ pitches in a start anymore. That doesn’t surprise me.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Nets are the only local sports team in action this evening, and there are only three college basketball games going on. Good night to catch up on Netflix, I guess. I really enjoyed Narcos, if you’re looking for a recommendation. Talk about whatever here.

Rosenthal: Tigers asked about Andrew Miller before K-Rod trade

"Trade rumors are dumb." (Patrick Smith/Getty)
“Trade rumors are dumb.” (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Earlier today the Tigers made a move in hopes of improving their perpetually shaky bullpen, acquiring Francisco Rodriguez from the Brewers for an infield prospect. K-Rod, who is somehow still only 33, had a 2.21 ERA (2.91 FIP) in 57 innings this past season. There is $9.5M left on his contract and the last thing a rebuilding team like the Brewers needs is an expensive closer.

A few hours before the trade Ken Rosenthal reported the Tigers had inquired about the availability of Andrew Miller, though they weren’t comfortable with the asking price. Rosenthal says the Tigers are not eager to move the players they acquired in the David Price and Yoenis Cespedes trades, who are basically their top prospects. Detroit also checked in on Aroldis Chapman.

The Yankees are said to be “shopping everyone,” and it makes sense to at least see what the market is for Miller given the haul the Padres received for Craig Kimbrel last week. In addition to the Tigers, the Diamondbacks have also asked about Miller in recent weeks. I’m sure a bunch of other clubs have as well. High-end relievers are always in demand. The asking price is high and it should be. Also, for what it’s worth:

I suppose it’s possible the Yankees and Tigers could rekindle their Miller trade talks at some point — after all, the Tigers need relievers, plural — though unless the Yankees lower their asking price, I don’t think it’ll happen. And there’s no reason to lower the asking price. Miller’s great and his contract isn’t onerous. If he were on another team and being shopped, we’d want the Yankees to get him.

The Yankees tend to keep things pretty close to the vest — the Aaron Hicks trade came of nowhere, for example — and the fact all these Miller rumors are leaking leads me to believe there are no serious talks. If things go quiet, it could either mean they’re in serious talks or nothing is going on. I guess that’s part of the intrigue. We’ll see.

Prospect Profile: James Kaprielian

(Staten Island Advance)
(Staten Island Advance)

James Kaprielian | RHP

Kaprielian is a Southern California kid who was born in Orange County and grew up in Tustin. He played football as well as three years of varsity baseball at Beckman High School, going 33-3 with a 0.96 ERA overall. Kaprielian threw eleven shutouts and two no-hitters in his career, and he didn’t walk a batter his junior year. “He was a special player to get to coach,” said coach Zach Reeder to Tim Burt.

Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Kaprielian as the 73rd best prospect in the 2012 draft, though bonus demands and a strong commitment to UCLA caused him to fall to the 40th round, when the Mariners grabbed him. Kaprielian did not sign out of high school and instead went to college. By the way, his name is pronounced “ka-pril-ian.”

As a freshman, Kaprielian had a 1.55 ERA with 53 strikeouts and 24 walks in 40.2 innings across 34 relief appearances. He pitched for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod League after the season, where he posted a 1.80 ERA in 20 innings. He struck out 28 and participated in the league All-Star Game.

The Bruins moved Kaprielian into the rotation his sophomore year and he immediately took over as their Friday night starter. He blossomed into one of the best starters in the nation, pitching to a 2.29 ERA with a conference leading 108 strikeouts and 34 walks in 15 starts and 106 innings. That performance earned him All-Pac-12 honors.

Kaprielian pitched for the US Collegiate National Team during the summer and struck out a dozen in six shutout innings against Chinese Taipei. He pitched soon after losing his mother to breast cancer and his effort was recognized as the USA Baseball International Performance of the Year.

Kaprielian had a 2.02 ERA with 114 strikeouts and 33 walks in 106.2 innings spread across 16 starts and one relief appearance as a junior this spring, earning him Second Team All-American honors. On May 15th, he threw nine no-hit innings against Arizona in the first no-hitter in UCLA history. (They won in ten innings.)

Prior to the 2015 draft, Baseball America and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Kaprielian as the 19th and 27th best prospect in the draft class, respectively. The Yankees, who were linked to Kaprielian all spring, grabbed him with their first round pick, the 16th overall selection. He signed a few days before the deadline for a $2.65M bonus, slightly more than the $2.43M slot value.

Pro Debut
UCLA’s season ended June 1st and Kaprielian didn’t sign until July 15th, so the Yankees eased him into things to start his pro debut. He made two quick tune-up appearances with the Rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees before moving up to Short Season Staten Island, where he made three more starts. Kaprielian allowed six runs (five earned) on ten hits and four walks in 11.1 innings in his pro debut. He fanned 14.

The Yankees turned Kaprielian loose during the NY-Penn League postseason. He made two starts for the Staten Island Yanks in the playoffs and they were both great: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K in the first one, then 6.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 6 K in the second one. The Baby Bombers were swept in the Championship series but Kaprielian, who started Game One in both postseason series, was pretty great. Between college and pro ball, Kaprielian threw 130.1 total innings in 2015. He then participated in Instructional League after the season.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-4 and 200 lbs., Kaprielian is a big and sturdy guy with an ideal pitcher’s frame. He has the basic four-pitch mix — fastball, curveball, slider, changeup — and he uses all four pitches regularly. This isn’t a guy with a show-me changeup or something like that. Kaprielian has good feel for each of his pitches and all four are weapons. His deep arsenal is the reason he was fifth pitcher taken in this summer’s draft.

Kaprielian’s fastball sat 90-93 mph for most of his college career before jumping to 92-95 mph with a few 96s late this spring. He sustained his newfound velocity in his pro debut as well. Depending on the day, either the curveball or slider is Kaprielian’s best breaking ball, though both are above-average pitches. The slider is a mid-80s offering with short and sharp break, so much so that it almost looks like a cutter. The curve mostly sits in the 78-82 mph range and Kaprielian can throw it for strikes or bury it in the dirt for swings and misses.

The changeup is Kaprielian’s fourth pitch and was a point of emphasis after turning pro. The Yankees had him throw it a bunch with Staten Island and it’s really more of a circle change with tumbling action in the low-80s. He tends to spike it in the dirt when he misses. Kaprielian’s command rates as above-average and he pitches aggressively, going after hitters rather than nibbling and trying to set them up.

Kaprielian’s delivery is not textbook — he lifts his leg up then brings it down before striding forward, and his shoulders dip along with his lower half — but it’s not violent or anything that needs to be changed. It’s almost like a halfway drop-and-drive delivery. The Yankees really value good makeup and it’s no coincidence Kaprielian drew raves for his maturity and work ethic at UCLA.

2016 Outlook
After three years in the Pac-12, including the last two as the best starting pitcher in the conference, Kaprielian is on the very fast track. He’s ready for High-A Tampa and his time there may be brief. As a four-pitch guy with command and maturity, Kaprielian could jump on the Ian Kennedy track and make his MLB debut late in 2016. Kennedy made ten starts with High-A Tampa, nine with Double-A Trenton, six with Triple-A Scranton, then three with the Yankees in 2007, his first full pro season. Even if Kaprielian doesn’t make his MLB debut in 2016, he should be a big league option no later than the first half of 2017. This isn’t a guy you draft in the middle of the first round then hold back in the minors. Kaprielian’s potential to move very quickly was part of his appeal at the time of the draft.

My Take
I really like Kaprielian and think he got a raw deal from may fans at the time of the draft, being labeled low upside and things like that. If the velocity spike is legit — he held it from spring all through the summer in pro ball — Kaprielian has significant ceiling and could pitch near the front of a big league rotation. Even if the velocity increase doesn’t last and he reverts back to 90-93 mph, he’s still a no doubt starter with the frame to be a workhorse. The Yankees have started to lean on their farm system a little more and I’m excited to see Kaprielian cut through the minors quickly and make his debut as soon as next season.