Patrick Teale

James Kaprielian has looked extremely sharp very early but yet nobody knows if he can be even better.

TAMPA, FL -- Right-hander James Kaprielian, the consensus top Yankee pitching prospect, has looked amazingly sharp early on in camp. In fact, some might make the argument that he's already in mid-season form. However, Kaprielian, who has less than 30 professional innings under his belt, has never made it to mid-season so there's really no telling just how good he could be.

The former first rounder was in this very spot a year ago, dominating hitters early and often in Spring Training camp and looking every part of a big league pitcher, and then made batters look foolish in his first three starts of the Florida State League before going down with what would wind up being season-ending elbow issues.  He wouldn't pitch again until the Arizona Fall League this past offseason.

"It's tough," Kaprielian admitted of the injury last season.  "I was ready to go and I had my sights set pretty high with high standards and high goals but at the same time I don't see last year as a wash by any means.  I think players who go through that kind of stuff and aren't able to get through that stuff are bad players and guys who are able to get through it are good players, and guys who get better from it are great players.

"And I think for me it was a character building year and I'm pushing to be a great player.  That's the way I see it, I don't see last year as a wash.  I see it as a constructive year.  I think if I continue to have that outlook on it and understand what I went through, and what I had to go through everyday, then it's going to put me in the right direction."

He certainly appears to be headed in the right direction, an understatement of mammoth proportions given how he has looked early.  He once again is dominating hitters, as evidenced by his most recent outing where he struck out seven batters in three official innings [he faced two extra batters] in an intra-squad affair, allowing no hits and no walks.

"Camp's been good," he said modestly.  "All around on both sides guys have been working hard.  It's competitive, we're working hard, but we're also keeping that focus.  We all want to improve whenever we get the opportunity to do so and I think we're moving in the right way.  Things have been good.

"There's not one specific thing [I'm working on].  With me I'm continuously trying to prove to everybody, to my teammates, that they can rely on me to lead them to get a win out there, and put them in the right direction to play well.  For me that's what I want to do every time I take the mound.  When I'm not on the mound I need to continuously work hard, let my routines take care of themselves, and keep pushing to get better every single time.

"I feel good.  I feel strong.  We're pushing each day and my body feels good.  It's reacting well and I'm excited for the year to see what happens."

As impossible and improbable as it seems given just how good he has looked, he does continue to get better with each outing too.  He simply looks sharper and sharper every time he takes the mound, and it's not often somebody looks this good so early in Spring Training camp.

"I really think it's focus and discipline," he opined.  "Every time I take the ball in my hands, even on the days I'm not pitching, I'm really doing my best to make it game-like and try to improve on everything.  One of the things I try to do over the years is to make each pitch that I have as strong as the next one so there isn't a weakness or a flaw in the system.

"I want to make sure righties and lefties know I'm coming with four pitches and I think if I'm able to do that, get ahead early, and work counts the analytics side says it's going to be in my favor.  If I can take care of the stuff I can control it's going to give our team a better chance to win and I think that's what I try to do every single time I take the mound."

Throwing four different pitches at a moment's notice is a big reason for his success, clearly.  But it's the evolution of the entire game -- his stuff, his command -- that really is jaw-dropping.  Even Kaprielian himself can't pick just one area of his game that has improved the most either.

"I wouldn't say it's a particular pitch," he said.  "I think I've been able to sharpen my routine even more.  The longer you're in this game the more you understand your own physical needs and what you need to do to prepare, the nutrition, workouts, and everything that goes into it.  These are all things I've taken seriously throughout my career, even in college.

"I think just continuing to sharpen that pencil in all of those aspects, the routines and stuff, understanding what I need in my preparations, I think it's obviously going to help me on the mound."

Given just how dominant he has been it would seem he's ready to pitch at any level, including the big leagues.  However, where Kaprielian will actually start the 2017 campaign is anybody's guess at this point.

"They haven't told me anything yet but at the end of the day it's the minor leagues or the big leagues," he flatly said.  "There's not really a difference to me as to where I start.  Wherever I pitch I've got to be able to throw strikes and give my team a chance to win.  Whether that's high-A, Double-A, or Triple-A, it is what it is and I'm going to do whatever I can to give my team a chance to win."

Where Kaprieilian starts the season isn't the only mystery, however.  Given his limited professional experience to date, everyone knows that he will be on an innings limit this coming season.  What nobody knows, however, is what that innings cap will be.

"I haven't heard any pitch limit yet," he revealed.  "I'm sure there's going to be a lot of talk throughout the year and open conversations about how I'm feeling and whatnot.  They'll be able to look at numbers and see if anything has changed from the beginning of the season or where we're at, but there hasn't been anything said yet.  Obviously I'm curious [too] but it is what it is."

'It is what it is' is a very Kaprielian-like motto.  All business on the mound, he simply works on the things he can control and doesn't concern himself with anything else, and it's a major reason why he's been as successful [albeit in limited action] as he has been. In fact, he doesn't burden himself with outlandish goals either.

"I want to stay healthy," he listed as his top goal.  "I think that's important.  Along with staying healthy I want to give my team a chance to win every single time I take the ball.  There's going to be days where you feel great, get the ball in your hands, and things go your way.  Then there's going to be days where you feel awful and on those days especially you've got to be able to give your team a chance to win. If I'm able to do that consistently I think the end goal that doesn't even need to be said will accomplish itself.

"That's my biggest thing, just taking care of the little things, controlling what I can control, and everything else will take care of itself.  Do I want to make the big leagues?  Of course that's a goal but something like that gets taken care of when I take care of the smaller things."

It's obvious he is taking care of the little things these days and beyond all of the speculation of where he will start the 2017 season, with just how many innings will he throw, or even if he can reach the big leagues at some point this season, he is simply a pitcher who is still seeking to experience his first full healthy professional season.

"I'm extremely excited.  This should be a good year.  The guys around me are working hard and we're all getting each other better.  Camp's been good.  We've got like ten days left so we're going to continue to push hard and we'll see what happens."

There's really no overselling just how good Kaprielian has looked in camp.  In fact, though it is barely approaching the end of March he already appears to be in mid-season form.

"Well it's tough to say, I've never been in mid-season form as a professional athlete before," he said with smirk.  "I don't think it's fair for me to answer that since I don't know what my mid-season form is yet.  I think that'll be fun to see.  Things are going well and I want to continue to stay on that route.  Who know what could happen, things could go in the right direction."

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