Last Friday, the Mariners made the move to acquire lefty reliever James Pazos from the New York Yankees. While the move was a bit of a surprise (specifically the sudden sending away of breakout prospect Zack Littell), it was one of necessity: the departures of Charlie Furbush, Vidal Nuno, and Mike Montgomery over the past year have left the team without many left-handed options in the ‘pen.
Who the hell is James Pazos? Is he a legitimate upgrade to the bullpen or is he just another part of the pile? What does his repertoire look like? What are his strengths and weaknesses? Let’s take it question by question.
Where did he come from?
Pazos made multiple stops in his college career, pitching for Chandler-Gilbert Community College before moving on to the University of San Diego, where he was a teammate of Kris Bryant from 2011-2012. Pazos emerged as a dominant bullpen presence in his final year with the Toreros, striking out 63 while allowing just 15 earned runs and 38 hits in 63.0 IP.
The performance caught the eye of the New York Yankees, who proceeded to use their 13th-round pick on the big lefty in the 2012 MLB draft. Over the next few years, Pazos would slowly work his way up the system, operating in Class-A in 2013, High-A and Double-A in 2014, and Triple-A for a majority of 2015 before making his MLB debut during September 2015.
Last year, he tossed 27.1 innings in Triple-A before getting a second cup of coffee with the Yankees.
How did he perform?
I’ll start this answer out by taking a cold, hard look at his numbers throughout his minor league career. (NOTE: I’m only looking at the larger samples. He had numerous short stints with certain levels due to injuries, quick promotions, etc...):
Source: Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus
Aside from his 2013-14 stretch that saw him post a 2.16 BB/9, he’s posted fairly poor walk-rates wherever he’s gone. Perhaps the most discouraging part is that his worst mark–a ghastly 6.26 BB/9–came just this past season. That being said, he still managed an impressive FIP most years due to his spectacular ability to miss bats. In addition to his career-worst walk-rate this past year in Triple-A, he also posted a career-best strikeout-rate (13.50 K/9).
Some at-bats you’ll get strikeouts. Some at-bats you’ll get this:
Fixing his control issues, or at the very least putting a small, Hello Kitty-themed Band-Aid on them, will be pivotal in the future for both Pazos and the Mariners.
What does he throw?
Here is a breakdown from Brooks Baseball on what he was throwing on a game-by-game basis this past September:
We’re only looking at seven appearances and 3.1 innings here, but there is a consistency to the small sample: a four-seam fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a low-80s slider. He used the fastball roughly two-thirds of the time during his brief stint, as well, as it accounted for 65.52% of his pitches thrown.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball had this to say about Pazos in an article back in May:
He is part of the Yankees Middle Relief Prospect Corps, looking like a fine LOOGY with a 90-96 MPH fastball, a major league slider, and an occasional decent change-up. He’s tough for hitters to pick up and limits hits but his command is inconsistent and could prevent him from taking on a larger role. He could still last for years as a lefty bullpen option of course.
What role will he fill?
As suggested by Sickels in the paragraph above, Pazos is best suited for a LOOGY role at the moment. He’s shown the ability to get RHBs out in the past and the potential for him to be a regular setup man is there if the command issues get figured out, but for now a LOOGY role should suit him just fine. Other LHPs expected to compete for a job in Spring Training are Dean Kiekhefer, Paul Fry, and half of Pat Venditte.
Okay, but has he ever struck out Casey Kotchman?