Final Thoughts On Paxton’s Departure

We’ve got plenty of ground to cover before we get to this week’s mailbag, as Tuesday was an interesting day in college baseball. In the Florida Four event at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, the Atlantic Coast Conference teams carried the day, as Miami pounded South Florida 15-2, and Florida State jumped on Florida with seven runs in the first, then rolled to a 10-5 victory.

On the other side of the country, heavyweights from the Big West and West Coast Conference split two games, as Pepperdine blanked UC Irvine 4-0 behind five shutout innings from lefty Aaron Gates, and Cal State Fullerton beat San Diego 11-4 behind three hits and three RBIs from junior center fielder Gary Brown. BA’s Dave Perkin was on hand for that one and came away impressed with Brown.

“Gary Brown is on fire,” Perkin said. “He’s hitting .419, but it’s not just the average, it is the way he is hitting the ball. He had three hits last night.  The first one was a single to left that was scorched; the second was a line shot that cleared the center-field fence.

“In a change from the beginning of the season, (Titans coach Dave) Serrano has (Christian) Colon hitting first and Brown hitting second. I don’t think that is the reason for Brown’s streak, but who knows. Earlier, Brown had been trying to run before he made contact; now he is planting himself and getting a healthy cut.”

Elsewhere on the West Coast, three Pacific-10 Conference teams went 3-0 in exhibition action against Japan college teams. In Los Angeles, Dennis Holt delivered a pinch-hit, three-run double in the seventh to power UCLA past Waseda University. In Tempe, freshman righty Alex Blackford struck out seven and allowed just one run on three hits in Arizona State’s 9-1 win against Meiji University. And Ben Clowe had two extra-base hits to lead Stanford past Rikkyo University 4-2.

A day earlier, Cal State Northridge scored five runs in the eighth to beat Waseda 9-4. Maybe this week can’t compare with the magnitude of the World Baseball Classic (where Japan has had considerably more success than the U.S.) or the annual series between USA Baseball’s collegiate national team and Japan’s (which the Japanese won in heart-breaking fashion last summer), but it’s a good week for the Americans nonetheless.

Today’s mailbag question comes via the Baseball America Facebook page; feel free to submit questions there for future mailbags, or by e-mailing collegeblog@baseballamerica.com.

I guess I’ll go with the obligatory Paxton question: What does his leaving Kentucky mean for him and what does it mean for the program?

Nate Ferria
Winston-Salem, N.C.

Paxton’s father confirmed in a media report this weekend that the lefthander intends to play for an independent league team to get ready for the draft in June. His decision to leave Kentucky does not affect his draft stock as much as it affects him on a personal level. All of this procedural wrangling over a possible violation of the “no agent” rule has cost him a chance to compete for a talented Kentucky team with a shot to make a nice postseason run. There is inherent value in that experience, though it is difficult to quantify.

Certainly, his departure is disappointing to the Wildcats (as we discussed Friday), but it is not a crippling blow. Really, this is where Kentucky expected to be last summer. They were hardly banking on Paxton returning to school after being drafted in the supplemental first round; they had already planned for his departure, and his return was just a bonus. Kentucky’s weekend rotation has a chance to be special even without Paxton, as Alex Meyer, Taylor Rogers and Logan Darnell all have excellent arms and have gotten off to strong starts.

Still, Paxton would have made the Wildcats that much stronger, because they could have moved one of those other arms into a different role, taking pressure off the rest of the staff. And Paxton knows that his departure affects his team, and feels bad about it.

“James apologizes to his teammates and coach, who are stuck in the middle, just like he is,” Paxton attorney Rick Johnson wrote in a statement released to media Tuesday. “James wishes his teammates and his coach a successful season, and he will be there in spirit cheering them on. James is and will always be a Wildcat at heart.”

The statement also indicates that Paxton had little faith he would be able to play at all in 2010 if he submitted to an NCAA interview regarding his alleged violation of the “no agent” rule, despite Kentucky’s suggestion to the contrary on Friday. And Paxton believed his rights were being violated by the NCAA’s insistence upon questioning him, so he refused to give in and participate in the process.

“At some point, James believes you have to stand up for what is right, and James has decided to do so by taking a leave of absence from the University,” Johnson wrote. “James understands that his life will be defined by his principles, and he is making a heartbreaking sacrifice to stand up for what he believes is right.”

For what it’s worth, most coaches I’ve chatted with about Paxton have expressed sympathy for his situation. This morning, when I was speaking with South Carolina coach Ray Tanner about the upcoming Clemson series, Tanner volunteered his opinion about the Paxton case without any prompting from me.

“What a mess,” Tanner said. “The system is broke. It should not be like it is. College baseball, we’ve got to get everybody to the table to get it rectified. There’s no way players should be suspended, there shouldn’t be any questioning. There’s too much gray area. The young man should be pitching for Kentucky right now. He had a chance to sign, he didn’t sign. Bingo.

“I don’t have the answers, but something needs to be done. You call in a kid and make him go through a questionnaire session, and the questions are structured in such a way to get the kids in trouble. I’m really disappointed. I won’t be disappointed I won’t have to face him, but it’s not right. The NCAA hasn’t done its homework on this.”

College | ##No Agent Rule #James Paxton #Kentucky

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