James Kaprielian finally making progress after three years of injuries

Ali Thanawalla

James Kaprielian finally making progress after three years of injuries

STOCKTON -- Back in 2015, James Kaprielian was one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball.

The talented right-hander had just completed his third straight dominant season at UCLA and was selected 16th overall by the Yankees in the 2015 MLB Draft. It seemed like he was on the fast track to the big leagues.

However, like many pitchers before him, Kaprielian's career got derailed by injuries. He suffered an elbow injury in 2016 and had to undergo Tommy John surgery the following year, keeping him out of baseball until 2019.

"It's been really hard," Kaprielian told NBC Sports California. "And it still is hard. Everyone has been telling me, 'Be patient, be patient, be patient.' It's been three years and I'm still trying to be patient. I'm positive, though, if I keep working, keep trying to be a good teammate, keep trying to get the guys around me better, keep trying to improve every day, somewhere down the line this is going to benefit me and benefit the guys around me."

Kaprielian joined the A's organization after his Tommy John surgery in 2017 as part of the Sonny Gray trade. After missing two full seasons, the 25-year-old is finally back on the mound this year as a member of the High-A Stockton Ports.

"I feel great," he said. "For starters, it's good to be back here and be with the team, be in the clubhouse and on the bus. I missed all that stuff. It's good to be a part of a team again. ... Obviously, pitching in games and getting back to that competitiveness, that's something I've missed. As an athlete, when that gets taken away from you, it's tough. The past two years have been extremely difficult, not having that. So it feels good to be out here again."

Kaprielian has made four starts for the Ports, going 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. He has recorded 15 strikeouts in 14 innings, compared to just three walks.

"I've felt good," Kaprielian said of his performance. "The biggest thing for me is just finding my timing, rhythm, and the cues, and getting back to that. Once you stop doing it for so long, it's hard for it to just come back right away. But it seems like it has. My stuff feels good. ... I'm excited with the progress, but I'm still very hungry and feel like there's a ways to go for me."

Even through Kaprielian's injury issues, the A's have remained extremely high on their 6-foot-3, 210-pound prospect, believing greatly in his ability.

"His potential is pretty enormous," said assistant general manager/director of player personnel Billy Owens. "You see the physicality. Big names kind of jump out at you, between a Jake Arrieta, Corey Kluber -- that's the body type. Going back to his UCLA days, he led the Pac-12 in strikeouts. There's a long lineage of big-time starters from UCLA in Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, Griffin Canning. James Kapriliean fits right in the mix there. It's just a matter of him having that stamina, staying healthy, and accruing innings. But as far as the talent, the sky is the limit."

Kaprielian features four above-average pitches and pinpoint control. While his fastball velocity hasn't completely returned yet following surgery, his curveball, slider, and changeup can all serve as out pitches.

[RELATED: Luzardo, Puk helps each other through injuries]

Kaprielian believes the key now is just to keep working hard and stay positive, even if it's not always easy.

"It's hard," he admitted. "But this is my story. I didn't expect this to ever happen. I always thought, 'I take care of my body. I'm never going to get Tommy John.' That's not the way it went. But I'm here now. This is my story. I'm an Oakland A. I'm excited to be here. I love this organization. I want to continue to be the best person I can be and the best teammate I can be and see where it takes me."

A's vs. Twins lineups: Matt Chapman out, Chad Pinder to start at third


A's vs. Twins lineups: Matt Chapman out, Chad Pinder to start at third

The A's will be without All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman as they take aim at their seventh straight win Thursday night in Minnesota.
Chapman left Wednesday's game after two innings with left ankle soreness and is considered day-to-day. He told reporters his absence is just precautionary and he should play on Friday.
"It just stiffened up on my throw across the diamond (in the top of the first) and then when I took that swing in the box (in the bottom of the first), it kind of just like caught, and then it didn't feel right," Chapman said after the game. "So it was more precautionary than anything."
Chad Pinder will fill in at third base and hit eighth in the order. Pinder homered in Wednesday's win, one of six A's home runs in the game. Jurickson Profar hit two homers of his own and will get another start at second base and bat seventh.
Designated hitter Khris Davis will hit sixth for the second straight game, with right fielder Mark Canha in the cleanup spot again. Canha notched his first career two-homer game on Wednesday.
Veteran right-hander Mike Fiers will be on the mound for Oakland, seeking his eighth straight win and 11th consecutive quality start. Fiers, 34, ranks second among American League starters with a 2.31 ERA since April 26. For the season, he is 9-3 with a 3.61 ERA.
Fiers is 6-1 with a 2.66 ERA in 12 career appearances against Minnesota, including 11 starts. Earlier this month, he allowed two runs (one earned) in six innings in a no-decision against the Twins.
Minnesota will counter with right-hander Kyle Gibson. The 31-year-old is 8-4 this season with a 4.03 ERA. In five career starts against the A's, he is 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA.
Here are the full lineups for the A's-Twins game, which will be broadcast on NBC Sports California and the MyTeams app. Coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. PT, with first pitch at 5:10.
Oakland A's (55-41)
Marcus Semien, SS
Robbie Grossman, LF
Matt Olson, 1B
Mark Canha, RF
Ramón Laureano, CF
Khris Davis, DH
Jurickson Profar, 2B
Chad Pinder, 3B
Josh Phegley, C

Mike Fiers, RHP (9-3, 3.61 ERA)
Minnesota Twins (58-36)
Max Kepler, CF
Mitch Garver, C
Nelson Cruz, DH
Marwin Gonzalez, LF
C.J. Cron, 1B
Luis Arraez, 2B
Miguel Sanó, 3B
Jake Cave, RF
Ehire Adrianza, SS
Kyle Gibson, RHP (8-4, 4.03 ERA)

Billy Beane on A's plans for MLB trade deadline, season summary so far

Billy Beane on A's plans for MLB trade deadline, season summary so far

Newly-acquired A's pitcher Homer Bailey got off to a rocky start in his A's debut Wednesday, but settled into his first outing and helped the A's prevail over the Mariners. 

The veteran pitcher was acquired from the Royals via trade Sunday, but the A's don't appear to be done bringing more arms into the equation as the July 31 trade deadline nears.

“We’re hoping we’re active," A's executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane told The Athletic's Tim Kawakami. "We’re looking for pitching -- we don’t have a lot of depth there, it would be nice to add relievers and/or a starter would probably be the area that we’re looking at."

Beane mentioned that with the hard 31st deadline this year -- there is no longer an Aug. 31 waiver deadline -- it could make other teams aggressive early on. But with the A's sitting pretty, it would be crazy to think they wouldn't be involved in the trade market.

“Where we go from here, I hope we make a bunch of trades, this is the reason you get the job is to be in the playoff hunt and to ultimately make transactions," Beane said. "If you're right around .500 near the trade deadline, you're still in a pretty good position in most seasons to have a shot at the wild card."

But it appeared any of those transactions wouldn't be geared toward any of the guys out in the field.

"I think we feel pretty good about the position players."

As they should. 

Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Ramón Laureano and Marcus Semien were those named and complimented by Beane and those four are just part of the successful offense/defense force that the A's have constructed. And as much as the team is seeking out players to throw on the hill, Beane is rather impressed with what he's seen thus far.

"[Mike] Fiers coming back, [Brett] Anderson's pitched very, very well, [Frankie] Montas was one of the best starters in the league and we lost him," Beane told Kawakami. "So they've kind of held their own and done well."

Beane said heading into the season the starting rotation was something the A's had to invent.

"It was a big concern, but we also knew about halfway through that we had the chance of getting A.J. Puk back, Sean Manaea back,  [Jesús] Luzardo -- you know, would be back."

[RELATED: A's should trade for Marlins pitcher, analyst writes]

Manaea would continue to have a starting job once he finishes his rehab assignment. He will start for the High-A affiliate Stockton Ports on Thursday night.

Puk will more than likely take a bullpen role once he is with the big league club. And when it comes to Luzardo, it could be similar for the A's No. 1 prospect. Beane hopes all three of them will be in an Oakland uniform by August -- it's just a matter of when during the month we will see them.

They don't want to rush the trio.