Yankees Fans: Most Important Takeaways from 2016 Arizona Fall League
Kap and the Bird Man Finally Healthy
In his seventh and final start of the AFL season Wednesday, top pitching prospect James Kaprielian allowed just one hit over 4.1 innings of work, shutting out the Salt River Rafters in a 4-0 win. He threw 64 pitches, 40 of them for strikes while striking out four and walking one.
While a 2-3 record and 4.33 ERA may not be what many fans expected, Kaprielian was reasonably sharp this fall after missing the majority of the 2016 regular season to an elbow injury. There were one or two rough outings mixed in, but overall he looked like the same dominant guy who was mowing down hitters with High-A Tampa earlier in the year. I’m really excited to see what he can do over a full season next year.
Crucially, Kaprielian’s stuff looked completely undiminished by the long layoff, suggesting that he should be at full strength when spring training rolls around, following a normal offseason. The 22-year-old righty was sitting 95-97 with his fastball regularly during the AFL and commanding all of his four-pitch arsenal effectively.
Things went a little less well for projected 2017 Yankees starting first baseman Greg Bird, who is still rehabbing from the shoulder injury that kept him sidelined for 2016. While he has made progress, he’s still not cleared to play the field because he can’t make throws at full strength yet.
Bird also has a ways to go in building strength back in his shoulder. After hitting four doubles in his first three AFL games, Bird had just two extra-base hits the rest of the way, finishing with a .215/.346/.354 in 77 plate appearances. His excellent plate discipline means he wasn’t a complete disaster on offense, but he clearly wasn’t driving the ball like he has in the past.
What does that mean for 2017? Not necessarily anything. The Yankees will have to see how he’s progressing when March rolls around, but fans should assume that Bird is a lock to land the starting job next spring. Shoulder injuries can seriously sap the power of sluggers, and he might benefit from a few months in the minor leagues to begin the season.