Yankees: James Kaprielian Getting Tommy John Surgery Out of the Way

Mar 12, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees pitcher James Kaprielian (88) looks on from the dugout at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 12, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees pitcher James Kaprielian (88) looks on from the dugout at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Yankees right-hander James Kaprielian, the 55th ranked prospect in all of baseball, has decided to go under the knife and have Tommy John surgery.

Yankees top pitching prospect and sixth-best prospect in the entire farm system (per MLB Pipeline) will have surgery to repair the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right throwing elbow on Tuesday of next week.

After being examined by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles, the prognosis was grim, as the results were in line with what the team concluded following the first MRI and dye test they performed back in Tampa.

Though Yankees general manager Brian Cashman wouldn’t talk about Kaprielian’s ulnar collateral ligament or the possibility of Tommy John surgery, he did, however, point out the obvious.

"“Clearly, you don’t bounce around the country if the surgical option isn’t on the table,” Cashman said. “It’s either the surgical option or continue to pitch through it. He’s basically gonna take a day or two to talk to his family and his agency and get back to us about what he’d like to see happen.”"

It’s understandable that Kaprielian asked the Yankees for a few days to mull over his options. After all, this isn’t the first problem he’s experienced from his million dollar arm. Kaprielian missed all but two starts last season, after being shut down with a strained right flexor tendon.

Often a precursor to Tommy John surgery, Kaprielian pitched well in the offseason instructional league, Arizona Fall League, and even parts of this Spring Training.

While many within the organization were hopeful he would reach the big leagues at some point this season, Kaprielian will now likely be out of action until the midway point of 2018.

Fellow top pitching prospect, Alex Reyes of the St. Louis Cardinals, recently faced the same frustrating decision.

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After sustaining a torn UCL in 2016, Los Angeles Angels righty Garrett Richards went in an opposite direction in regards to his recovery. Richards began biometrics surgery in early May of last year, which involves stem cells being directly injected into the affected area. And though he missed the remainder of the 2016 season, Richards did return this spring and was said to be throwing in the mid to upper 90s before hitting the DL with a biceps strain, just a few days ago.

But that’s the worry about pitchers who don’t get TJ surgery the first time around. Other parts of the arm overcompensate to make up for the instability in the UCL. Sure, you can “mostly” stabilize the muscles around the injured ligament, as Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka has done, but it can lead to a laundry list of other maladies.

If I were the Yankees, I would have told Tanaka the same thing when he sustained the injury back in 2014 at age 25. Get the surgery — rehab — come back strong — and let’s put this issue to rest.

I fully understand Tanaka had his best statistical season in 2016, but what is his prognosis long-term?

Tanaka wants to play, especially if he intends to opt out after this season. But whoever signs him to a multimillion dollar deal this offseason is doing so, knowing there is a real possibility that Tanaka could very well miss 12-18 months with one wrong pitch.

Sure, all pitchers assume some sort of risk each time they take the mound, but how in your right mind can you pay someone $100M plus when you know they’re already hurt? I’d rather sign a guy like Yu Darvish, who has already proven he is recovered from TJ surgery (even if he is a few years older).

According to The American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI), nearly 30 percent of all big league pitchers have at one time undergone Tommy John. The successful return rate for pitchers currently stands between 85 to 95 percent. For those wondering about players who have undergone two TJs — well, they’ve actually come back 78.7 percent of the time.

All in all, this type of surgery is no longer a career death sentence. It’s a second chance for a once promising player to redefine himself as an athlete, especially at such a young age.

Next: Cashman Sets Record Straight On Acquiring Pitching

Obviously, it’s a disappointment for the team and its fans, but it’s the right move for the injured player, and that’s all that really matters.