Pitcher Kaprielian the real deal

James Kaprielian was stumped.

Asked what seemed like a fairly innocuous question, the Beckman High pitcher could only muster an "Uhhhh …"

Finally, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior with an 89-mph fastball answered, "Travel ball, I think."

The question? When was the last time Kaprielian was tagged with a loss while pitching a baseball game. He went 10-0 last year as a sophomore for the Pacific Coast League champion Patriots, and is 3-0 this season, following last week's win over Woodbridge in the league opener.

What about two years ago on the freshman team?

"I don't know, we didn't lose too many games," he said. "I pitched in relief then. It might have been travel ball."

Kaprielian certainly is on the fast track. He was the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year last year as a sophomore and is only getting better. In the league opener against Woodbridge last week, he took a perfect game into the seventh inning.

With one out, a passed ball on a third strike allowed a batter to reach and spoiled the perfect game, and the next batter singled to break up the no-hitter. Still, Kaprielian finished with a one-hit shutout.

"It was definitely on my mind," Kaprielian said of the perfect game. "But I wasn't too upset when I lost the no-hitter. It was a big win for us, it was the start of league. I was focused on getting the win."

Beckman won league last season with a perfect mark of 15-0, and the Patriots have started league this year at 2-0 and are 7-2 overall. Kaprielian's one-hit shutout was matched by Chad Rieser's one-hit shutout over Northwood on Wednesday. Beckman plays host to Corona del Mar (8-2, 3-0 in league) Friday at 3:15 p.m.

Kaprielian said the pitching staff is a tight-knit group that runs together and supports each other. But Kaprielian has taken the lead as the staff ace.

His fastball has been clocked at 89-90 mph this season and he's getting stronger. He also throws a two-seam fastball that has some sink, a curveball and a circle change he learned from his dad.

The circle change is an advanced pitch that not many pitchers throw, even at the major league level. But Kaprielian stressed its importance to his repertoire, in order to keep hitters from sitting on his fastball.

"A regular changeup is more flat," he said. "With the circle change I release the ball with my thumb facing toward the ground, and you can see the seams spinning in a circle. There's a drop off to the inside part on right-handed batters."

If it sounds like Kaprielian is speeding toward a professional career, hold up. His parents have stressed the importance of getting a college education, and Kaprielian appears on his way to having a number of major universities from which to choose.

Kaprielian still has a ways to go before he'll have to make such a decision, but he said he had a conversation with his mom about another pitcher, Gerrit Cole, a first-round draft pick of the Yankees a couple years ago who instead accepted a scholarship to UCLA.

"Gerrit Cole was offered $5.5 million from the Yankees … $5.5 million is a lot of money," Kaprielian said. "I told my mom, if I get offered $5.5 million, am I supposed to say no? I'm not saying I'm going to get that kind of offer, but $5.5 million? I might have to take that."

Cole, a former Orange Lutheran standout, was never formally offered a signing bonus because he told the Yankees he was accepting the UCLA scholarship before negotiations ever got serious. But most observers believe Cole, who was the 28th pick overall in the 2008 draft, would have received about $3 million. As it stands now, Cole could be a top-three pick in the 2011 draft and command a signing bonus in the $8 million range.

Whatever Kaprielian decides, Beckman baseball coach Kevin Lavelle says his pitcher will be ready for it.

"His ceiling is really high," Lavelle said. "I tell college and pro scouts he's just scratching the surface. He's not content with where he's at. He has plans and he knows what he's going to do every single day and why he's doing it. He's such a mature athlete. James is the real deal."

For now, though, Kaprielian will keep his sites focused on the immediate goals, like helping Beckman repeat as league champions, and winning a CIF championship. Last season Beckman finished the season 27-2, but was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the CIF Division III playoffs. In 2009, Kaprielian's freshman year, Beckman lost the CIF title game at Angel Stadium.

"It's definitely our main goal," he said. "There are a few guys who played at Angel Stadium, and I was there watching. Everybody got a little taste of what was going on and how it was something special. But no one wants a taste now, we want the whole thing."

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