NEW YORK -- When James Kaprielian consistently lit up radar guns in his first big league Spring Training in 2016, the right-hander started to hear buzz that he could be fast-tracked to the Majors at some point during the season.
Those summer months arrived, and Kaprielian seemed to be about as far away from Yankee Stadium as possible. Limited to just 18 April innings by a right flexor strain, the 2015 first-round Draft pick said that the resulting weeks of tedious rehab at the team's training complex forced him to dig deep and take on a new challenge.
"A lot of people might say last year could be a wash. I don't really look at it like that," Kaprielian said. "I look at last year like it was a building block for me. I think somewhere down the line, what I had to endure last year will help me. It may not be the year we wanted, but I think it'll help in the end."
Rated as the Yankees' No. 9 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, Kaprielian was the 16th overall pick in 2015 out of UCLA, where he helped the Bruins to the College World Series as a freshman reliever before serving as the team's ace over the next two campaigns.
Signing for $2.65 million, Kaprielian got his feet wet with 11 professional innings in 2015, but he was limited to just three starts with Class A Advanced Tampa last year -- striking out 22 against three walks -- before returning for the instructional league and being sent to the Arizona Fall League.
Pitching for Scottsdale, Kaprielian sat in the mid-90s and touched 97 mph with his fastball, helping to restore confidence that he is ready to be part of the next wave of Yankees prospects making an impact at the game's highest level.
"I want to be a No. 1. I want to be the guy and I want the ball," Kaprielian said. "I'm a competitor. I'm not going to go out of my way [to announce that] unless you ask me, but, yeah, I want the ball. I want to be the guy. I want to be the ace. There's a lot of guys in our organization who are like that.
"I think that's going to better us. We've got a lot of guys who compete with each other. Clint [Frazier], Chance Adams, all these guys, we all want to be the guy. I think if we get enough of us pushing each other toward the right path, we're going to be pretty good."
Kaprielian will turn 23 in March, and he said that he will have no limitations when he joins the rest of the pitchers and catchers on Feb. 14 in Tampa, Fla., where he hopes to again spark speculation that his big league debut could be in the near future.
"My job is to compete every time I get the rock, and in between the times I don't get the rock, to bust my butt and continue to work," Kaprielian said. "That's all I can really control. Would I love to break with the team? Absolutely. But I can't really look too far into that. Regardless of where I end up, I have to pitch."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.