Nearly seven months after the signing deadline that applies to most draftees, the Mariners finally signed 2010 fourth-round pick James Paxton on March 4. The lefthander received $942,500, the largest bonus Seattle paid any of its 2010 draftees and more than four times MLB's recommended $209,700 payout for the 132nd overall pick.
In 2009, the Blue Jays drafted Paxton 37th overall out of the University of Kentucky, but they couldn't sign the native Canadian. After Paxton turned down Toronto's final offer of $1 million, team president Paul Beeston told a Toronto newspaper that he had negotiated directly with Paxton's adviser, Scott Boras, which would be a violation of NCAA rules. The Wildcats wouldn't allow Paxton to play until he submitted to an interview with the NCAA, and when he couldn't secure a temporary injunction in the Kentucky courts, he left the team and signed with the independent Grand Prairie AirHogs of the American Association.
As a Kentucky junior in 2009, Paxton worked at 93-94 mph and touched 97 with his fastball, which features good run and sink. His curveball graded as a true plus pitch at times, and he also showed solid command and some feel for a changeup, though he didn't use it often. Despite his stuff and a gaudy 115-20 K-BB ratio, the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder got hit hard and posted a 5.86 ERA in his final year with the Wildcats.
With Grand Prairie, Paxton's his fastball sat at 88-93 mph and his curveball and command also weren't as good as they had been the year before. He went 1-2, 4.08 in four starts, striking out 18 in as many innings. The combination of his stuff regressing and a history of nagging injuries (sore elbow in high school, back issues in 2008, tendinitis in his left knee in 2009) caused him to slide to the fourth round last June.
Though he appeared to have little leverage—Paxton would have had to re-enter the draft as a 22-year-old and show his stuff again, likely in another indy league stint—he still received nearly as much money as he turned down from the Blue Jays 18 months earlier, when his stock was at the highest. He wasn't subject to the signing deadline because he had been drafted as a college junior and gave up his final year of eligibility by signing with a non-MLB-affiliated team. Such players can sign up until a week before the next year's draft.
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