Mariners' James Paxton Trying To Make Up For Lost Time
James Paxton's pro career started about two years later than he hoped or anyone expect. The lefthander has made up for lost time since signing in February, breezing through low Class A in just 10 starts, skipping a level to Double-A in July and representing the Mariners and Canada in the Futures Game.
In a game chock full of outstanding pitching performances, Paxton had the most efficient. He required just six pitches, all 93-96 mph fastballs, to retire the top of the U.S. lineup (Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, Orioles shortstop Manny Machado, Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper) in order in the third inning.
The Blue Jays drafted Paxton 37th overall out of Kentucky in the 2009 draft, but the team failed to sign him and two more of its top four picks that summer. When club president Paul Beeston let slip to a Toronto newspaper that he had negotiated directly with Scott Boras, the Wildcats wouldn't let Paxton return to their team until he submitted to an NCAA interview.
Paxton balked, and when he failed to secure a temporary injunction in the Kentucky courts, he pitched for the independent Grand Prairie AirHogs (American Association). But after flashing a mid-90s fastball and a plus curveball as a college junior, he pitched with an 88-93 mph and a so-so curve in indy ball. The Mariners drafted him in the fourth round and didn't get him under contract until February, when he signed for $942,500.
He didn't want to talk in details about his travails on his way to pro ball, but he did acknowledge that they serve as motivation. Paxton saw just 18 innings of game action between May 2009 and April 2011, and his main focus has been on regaining his best stuff.
"The layoff did affect me. I threw 100 bullpens, but getting hitters in there is a different perspective," he said. "I threw a lot of bullpens to my dad up in Canada. He's got a few bumps and bruises, but he's been catching me my whole life."
Paxton opened the season in Clinton and had no trouble with low Class A hitters, posting a 2.73 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 56 innings. He struck out two in a perfect inning at the Midwest League all-star game shortly before earning a promotion to Double-A, which had been his goal for this season. He's pleased with how his fastball velocity has bounced back and how his other pitchers are coming along.
"My fastball is working well and I'm locating it better," Paxton said. "My curveball is getting better every time out there. I'm working hard on my changeup. It's new to me."
Also on his to-do list are throwing more strikes and quickening his delivery to the plate. If Paxton addresses those areas, his rise through the minors will be much quicker than his trip from amateur to pro ball.