James Paxton was selected 39th overall in the 2009 draft out of the University of Kentucky by the Toronto Blue Jays, after slipping due to signability issues. It came as no surprise that the Jays were unable to reach an agreement the British Columbia native. Paxton was ruled inelgibile by the NCAA for his senior season in 2010, which he ultimately spent pitching in Indy ball for Grand Prairie of the American Association. He was selected in the 4th round by the Seattle Mariners in the 2010 draft, finally reaching an agreement on a $942,000 signing bonus (early 2nd round money) during spring training in 2011.
Paxton has a classic pitcher's build at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. His frame is long and lanky, allowing for flexible strength. The long limbs allow him to release the ball closer to the plate than a shorter pitcher and to throw from a sharper downhill angle than most pitchers -- Paxton’s angle is very sharp. The one negative consequence of his size is that when he doesn't repeat, his flaws become more exaggerated, like most tall, lanky pitchers. Paxton didn’t’ repeat his delivery very well in the early parts of the game that I saw him, though from the 4th inning on he was very sharp.
Paxton used both a two seam and a four seam fastball, with the four seamer showing some riding action (backspin creating the illusion of the ball rising). Though the four seamer is mostly straight, he was able to control it well at 94-96 MPH, occasionally touching 97. His two seamer showed short, tight tailing action at 91-94. Both pitches are plus present pitches when his delivery is in synch and he repeats well.
In the early innings Paxton’s curveball was not very good...at all. It sat 71-72 with soft spin. Though the shape was good and it had some depth, the pitch showed no bite and he didn’t have very good feel for it. But from the fourth inning on Paxton was a completely different pitcher, and it was most obvious with his curveball. He not only found the feel for the pitch, commanding it well and keeping it low, but the spin got much harder, causing a sharp break. His curveball flashed plus potential at 76-78 MPH. If he can be consistent with the pitch it will be a good number two offering in the big leagues.
Paxton also threw a couple of sliders in the mid 80s. They were very effective since hitters were not prepared for the pitch. It showed good tilt and he threw it for strikes.
Paxton has a changeup. That’s about the extent of the pitches merits. He slows his arm considerably on the pitch and though it shows some fading action, it is a major project at this point. Paxton threw his changeup at 79-81 MPH and tipped it by slowing his arm. If he can maintain his arm speed on the changeup, hitters won’t be able to pick it up as quickly. Additionally, the velocity should increase by a couple MPH, which will give him a better speed differential from his mid-to-upper 90s fastball. The pitch is below average at present but could over time develop into a solid-average third or fourth pitch.
The Mariners have drafted extremely well the past few years and picks like Paxton in the fourth round helped their farm system make tremendous strides over the past few years. Paxton is raw for his age but he is also a rare talent. If he is able to harness his raw stuff, he could wind up being a No. 1-2 caliber starter and be a important part of a great future Mariners rotation. He could force his way up in 2012, but 2013 is a reasonable time to expect him to solidify himself as a big leaguer.
Follow @ProjectProspect for more scouting reports.