Prospect of the Day: James Paxton, LHP, Seattle Mariners
Fresh off his appearance in the 2011 Futures Game, Seattle Mariners lefty James Paxton is on a roll for Double-A Jackson. In his last four starts, he has a 36/4 K/BB ratio in 25.1 innings, allowing 14 hits for a 1.42 ERA. His path into pro ball was torturous, but he's certainly arrived now and should appear in the majors soon enough.
Paxton is a Canadian, born in Richmond, British Columbia. He attended college ball at the University of Kentucky, and while he posted an ugly 5.86 ERA in 2009, his impressive 115/20 K/BB ratio stood out as much as his mid-90s fastball and knee-bending curve. The Blue Jays drafted him in the supplemental round, but Paxton ("advised" by Scott Boras) didn't sign.
At one point it appeared he would return to the University of Kentucky, but the NCAA started cracking down on players with agent connections. Paxton ended up pitching for independent Grand Prairie last spring, with mixed results and less velocity than he showed in college. The Mariners drafted him in the fourth round last spring, but he didn't sign until this March, earning a bonus of $924,500. This was about $75,000 more than the Blue Jays offered him.
A 6-4, 220 pound, 22-year-old lefty, Paxton made his pro debut for Clinton in the Low-A Midwest League this spring. In 10 starts, he pitched 56 innings, allowing 45 hits with an 80/30 K/BB ratio, a 1.72 GO/AO, and just one homer allowed. His walk rate was high, but his K/IP and H/IP ratios were outstanding and reflected his quality stuff (more on that below). Promoted to Double-A Jackson in early July, he's made seven starts with a 1.85 ERA, a 51/13 K/BB, and 28 hits allowed in 39 innings with a 1.31 GO/AO and two homers allowed. As noted above, he's been exceptionally strong in his last four outings.
Paxton threw 94-98 MPH in college, but dipped down into the 88-92 range in his brief independent ball tenure last year. He has his velocity back now, working consistently in the mid-90s with movement. His breaking pitch was spotty in indy ball but is reportedly excellent this year, giving him two plus pitches. He has a straight changeup which doesn't draw strong reviews, but he'll change speeds with his breaking ball, which sometimes looks like a hard slider and other times more of a traditional curve. It's been effective either way this year.
Command is the key for Paxton. His walk rate was rather high at Clinton, but his stuff was so good he thrived anyway. His command has been excellent in his recent run of starts and the results are obvious. He didn't walk a lot of guys in college, but his command within the strike zone was inconsistent, and scouts felt he was hit harder than he should have been given the quality of his fastball and breaking ball. Note that Kentucky plays in a high-offense context, and his K/IP and K/BB ratios for the Wildcats were more indicative of his potential than the elevated ERA. In pro ball, the results have matched the potential.
There have been a few rumbles that Paxton could be promoted for September, but it seems more likely that he'll be a candidate for 2012. He is one of the top pitching prospects in the game, and profiles as a number two starter if he continues to progress with his command