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James Paxton Is Coming

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Frowns McGee
Frowns McGee

Not now. Not immediately. James Paxton is not being promoted from double-A Jackson. I should really make my headlines more clear. What I mean is, James Paxton has been really excellent lately. That is good, as he is a prospect!

Paxton is not the young collegiate pitcher most minors-aware Mariners fans are thinking about today. Tonight is the deadline for this year's draft picks to sign with their respective organizations, and Danny Hultzen has yet to put a pen to paper. These things usually come down to the wire, and these things usually work out, so I don't think anybody's too concerned. Still, until Hultzen signs his name all sloppy-like on the right line, we'll all be wondering.

But while Hultzen is on the forefront of so many minds, we have to acknowledge what James Paxton has done since moving from A-ball Clinton to double-A Jackson. Overall, the numbers are obviously impressive: 13 walks and 51 strikeouts in 39 innings. But here's what Paxton's done the last four times out:

Date IP K BB
26-Jul 5.1 8 2
31-Jul 6.1 8 0
6-Aug 6.2 10 2
12-Aug 7 10 0

Initially, Paxton sandwiched an excellent start in between two lousy starts. His last four have all been strong, though, and last Friday night he needed just 90 pitches to get through seven innings against Huntsville, striking out ten and allowing a run. Huntsville's not a great team, or even a good team, but that is the picture of dominance.

We care about trends more in the minors than we do in the Majors, because with prospects, trends can be a sign of progress. James Paxton is trending in the right direction. It's long been my philosophy to wait until prospects perform in double-A before getting excited, and now Paxton's performing like one of the better pitchers in the league. This is a very exciting development.

It is, of course, not all sunshine and peaches. Over those four starts, Paxton has thrown just 61% strikes. Breaking them down individually is even more telling:

July 26: 53% strikes
July 31: 67%
August 6: 56%
August 12: 68%

Paxton's control and command and what have you still have room for improvement. It isn't necessarily surprising, since Paxton practically took all of 2010 off, but he doesn't yet spot his pitches the way you like to see a guy spot his pitches. If Paxton were promoted to the Majors today, he would probably have a really tough time getting to the sixth.

But while Paxton's location is a work in progress, it's more evident than it's ever been that, with his mid-90s fastball, his curve and his change, he has legitimate strikeout stuff against both righties and lefties alike. The 22-year-old lefty isn't ready yet, but he's getting close, and his repertoire gives him a hell of a ceiling. Given continued health and improvement, Paxton should arrive before too long, and once he arrives, he should succeed.