Cal notes: Kaprielian resurgent with Ports

After injury struggles, 2015 first-rounder getting back into action

James Kaprielian has pitched just 37 1/3 pro innings since being taken in the first round in 2015. (Jerry Kime/MiLB.com)

By Merisa Jensen / Special to MiLB.com | June 3, 2019 12:00 PM

When Stockton Ports pitcher James Kaprielian finally got a chance to step onto the mound again, he wasn't going to let anything stop him -- not even a little bad weather.

"It was like, 'This is not ideal for my first start,' but it didn't matter if there were thunderstorms, I was going to grab the ball and pitch that day," said Oakland's No. 6 prospect.

May 19 was the first time Kaprielian pitched in a Minor League regular season game since 2016. He allowed two runs on four hits and one walk with four strikeouts over five innings in the Ports' 3-2 victory. He also pitched May 29, allowing three runs on three hits and one walk with four strikeouts in three innings of a 5-2 loss.

"I think it's progressively getting better," the 25-year-old said. "I'm starting to get back to myself, find that timing and that rhythm and along with that the competitive edge. I'd like to say the killer instinct's coming back a little bit, which is good. It's tough. It's been taken away from me for a long time and it's good to start to get that back."

It's been a long road back to the mound for Kaprielian, who was sidelined with a right elbow flexor strain in 2016 but had a good run in the Arizona Fall League that same year.

Kaprielian, a 2015 first-round pick of the Yankees, went on to pitch well in Spring Training with New York in 2017, but elbow pain sidelined him again. The decision was made to undergo Tommy John surgery in April 2017.

At the trade deadline in 2017, he was sent to the Athletics. He developed a shoulder injury in 2018, which returned this spring.

Despite everything, Kaprielian has maintained a positive outlook on his career, along with a determination to overcome his setbacks.

He said a big part of maintaining that mind-set is because of his mother, Barbara Kaprielian, who lost a 14-year battle against breast cancer when Kaprielian was a sophomore at UCLA.

"This is me and this is my story," he said. "A big inspiration for me was my mom. My mom died of breast cancer and she fought for 14 years. I saw every piece of the up and down with that, so for me there's not really any excuse. ... There's not really a time for me to start to feel bad for myself.

"This is what it is and you kind of got to turn the page and talk and figure out what we've got to do and then go do it and work hard. Try to be as good of a teammate as I can and a good clubhouse guy, and when I'm able to contribute on the field, like I am now, do my job. I try not to feel bad for myself."

No one would blame Kaprielian if he did feel bad for himself.

2019 MiLB include

Being traded while he was hurt was tough for him, since he couldn't help his new organization while being sidelined.

"When I got traded, it kind of caught me off-guard," Kaprielian said. "I didn't think I would be the one to get traded. I thought it just wouldn't happen, just because there was so much talk about the future and the expectation for me there and what they wanted out of me.

"But it happened and on the other side of that, coming over and being hurt and not being able to contribute. … Now I get to meet a lot of the guys. I hadn't been able to meet a lot of the guys, because I hadn't been playing with them. You don't get that same banter in the clubhouse and in the dugout in Arizona when you're rehabbing."

Kaprielian worked extra hard to be able to have that moment on May 19. He did everything he could think of to make sure he could get back on the field.

"It's been a long time, a lot of rehab, a lot of work behind the scenes," he said. "I'd say 99 percent of people don't know how much effort I've put into this, even people with the A's organization. The stuff I've been doing back home, whether it's the food I'm eating just to keep the inflammation out of my body or whatever it is. I'm doing every single thing I can to get back and to help this organization, try to be a big piece of the puzzle and hopefully win a World Series with these guys one day."

Though he can't wait to get back to how he was pitching before his series of injuries, Kaprielian is also following the guidelines for him to get back into the swing of things. He is currently limited to three innings a start, and he said he is focused more on trying to feel good on the mound and less on results.

"I think it's important that I pitch every fifth day and get back on that starter routine and get used to that," Kaprielian said. "Just body-wise you can't really replicate pitching in games and then being on a five-day routine, so being able to do that. Whether it's three innings, seven innings or nine innings, it's important that I consistently stay on a five-day routine and continue to make my starts."

Kaprielian is having fun with his teammates and is enjoying being back in the game and contributing to his team.

"I'm excited to be back and it's going to be a good story in the end, I feel like," he said. "I'm excited to play with these guys and glad to be here."

In brief

Home field advantage: The Visalia Rawhide have the best record in the California League (37-15) and also the best record at home (23-4). The D-backs affiliate lost three games at home in April -- April 4 to San Jose, 7-3; April 8 to Rancho Cucamonga, 4-1; and April 10 to Rancho Cucamonga, 8-4. They've lost just one home game since, a 9-0 defeat to Modesto on May 15.

Major May: The Lancaster JetHawks had a club-record five former team members called up to the Majors in May. The fifth was RHP Jesus Tinoco, who debuted out of the bullpen with the Colorado Rockies on May 31. IF Brendan Rodgers, the Rockies' No. 1 prospect, made his debut in May, along with RHP JD Hammer (Phillies), IF Jack Mayfield (Astros) and C Garrett Stubbs (Astros).

Merisa Jensen is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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