Yanks make UCLA pitcher top draft pick

With the 16th overall choice in the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, their highest since 1993, the Yankees selected UCLA pitcher James Kaprielian Monday night and made two more choices in the process’ first day.

In the compensation round, the Yankees picked University of San Diego shortstop Kyle Holder with the 30th overall selection. They used their second-round pick (57th overall) to select Indiana State pitcher Jeff Degano.

UCLA pitcher James Kaprielian, Yanks' first-round draft selection

UCLA pitcher James Kaprielian, Yanks’ first-round draft selection

Kaprielian, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound righthander, recently concluded his junior season with a 10-4 record and 2.03 ERA in 17 games (16 starts) and 106 2/3 innings. He led the Pac-12 Conference with 114 strikeouts and issued 33 walks for the Bruins, averaging 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

In both his sophomore and junior seasons, Kaprielian, 21, was named to the All-Pac-12 Conference first team after leading the conference in strikeouts both years. He was named as a 2015 second-team All-America by Collegiate Baseball. Kaprielian pitched nine of the Bruins’ 10 no-hit innings against Arizona May 15 in the first no-hitter in school history. Kaprielian was also named the USA Baseball Performer of the Year after pitching for the USA Collegiate National Team in 2014.

“Kaprielian is a guy we have scouted for a long time, and we’re really happy we were able to get him,” Yankees vice president of domestic and amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer said. “He has three quality pitches, throws strikes and generates a lot of swings-and-misses. On top of that, he has great make-up. He compiled a quality track record in a good league and performed well for Team USA.”

A native of Tustin, Calif., Kaprielian was rated by Baseball America as the 19th-best overall prospect in this year’s draft as well as the ninth-best pitcher. He was originally selected by the Mariners in the 40th round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of Beckman High School in Irvine, Calif., but chose to attend UCLA.

The selection of Kaprielian marks the second consecutive year that the Yankees have used their first draft pick on a college pitcher after selecting lefthander Jacob Lindgren from Mississippi State in the second round (55th overall) in 2014. Kaprielian joins righthander Jeffrey Pries (22nd overall pick in 1984) as the only UCLA products drafted in the first round by the Yankees in the history of MLB’s First-Year Player Draft, which began in 1965.

As a junior this year, Holder was named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year after batting .348 with 45 runs, 14 doubles, four home runs and 31 RBI in 55 games and 224 at-bats for the Toreros.

The left-handed hitter appeared on the 30-player watch list for the 2015 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award – given annually to the best amateur player in the country – and is one of 10 semifinalists for the 2015 Brooks Wallace Award, which recognizes the nation’s top collegiate shortstop. In addition to being ranked by Baseball America as the 38th-best player in the 2015 Draft, Holder was also tabbed by the publication as the “Best Defensive Player” among the top-200 collegiate players in the draft.

“Holder is about as elite a defender as we’ve seen come through the college ranks,” Oppenheimer said. “He has a tremendous glove. He also had a productive year offensively and does not swing and miss.”

The Yankees received their compensation-round pick after relief pitcher David Robertson signed with the White Sox in December 2014.

Degano, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound lefthander, earned a place on the Missouri Valley Conference second team in 2015 after posting an 8-3 record and 2.36 ERA across 15 starts and 99 innings for the Sycamores. The Surrey, British Columbia, native recorded 126 strikeouts with only 28 walks. Degano, who represented Canada in the 2005 Little League World Series, tied for fifth in the NCAA with 117 regular-season strikeouts.

“Degano is a lefthander with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a good breaking ball,” Oppenheimer said. “He throws a lot of strikes and has a quality athletic body.”

The 2015 First-Year Player Draft resumed Tuesday with the Yanks to make their next pick in the third round (92nd overall).

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