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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

March 9, 2011 at 8:27 AM

James Paxton on first week in Mariner camp: “It’s been awesome”

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(Manager Eric Wedge surveys batting practice today while last year’s interim manager, Daren Brown, hits fungoes).

James Paxton, the highly regarded pitcher who finally signed with the Mariners last week, nearly nine months after he was drafted in the fourth round last June, is rounding into shape.

“It’s a great opportunity, a lot of fun being out here with these guys,” Paxton said of his first few days in the major-league camp. “It’s been awesome.”

Paxton says the plan is for him to throw his first bullpen session on Friday or Saturday, “and they’re going to slowly get me going from there. Then hopefully get me in some sim (simulated) games and hopefully some games pretty soon. I think they’re just evaluating me, seeing where I’m at, taking it slow. I understand. They want to see where I’m at and break me into it slowly.”

There have been some concern among scouts about the effect of Paxton’s long layoff on his pitching. Originally drafted by the Blue Jays in 2009 (No. 37 overall out of the University of Kentucky), he failed to reach a contract agreement with Toronto and returned to Kentucky for his senior year. Expected to be one of the top collegiate pitchers in the country and a surefire No. 1 pick, he wound up leaving the university after getting involved in a legal battle with the NCAA over agent Scott Boras’s role in his negotiations with Toronto. He signed with the Grand Prairie AirHogs of the independent American Association.

According to Baseball America, as a junior at Kentucky, “Paxton worked at 93-94 mph and touched 97 with his fastball, which features good run and sink. His curveball graded as a true plus pitch at times, and he also showed solid command and some feel for a changeup, though he didn’t use it often. Despite his stuff and a gaudy 115-20 K-BB ratio, the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder got hit hard and posted a 5.86 ERA in his final year with the Wildcats.”

Baseball America said that with Grand Prairie, Paxton’s fastball was at 88 to 93 mph and the command of his curve ball declined. He was 1-2 with a 4.08 ERA in four starts, striking out 18 in 18 innings.

Paxton, however, believes he’ll be able to regain his prior form.

“I’m feeling really strong, feeling really good, my arm’s feeling good,” Paxton said. “I’ll be ready to go when I get my chance.”

Paxton said that the entire ordeal — the impasse with the Blue Jays, the NCAA ordeal and extended negotiations with the Mariners — was tough.

“It was a long time to not have baseball, but I really focused on getting better and using my time to get in better shape, he said. “”Now I’m feeling really good and ready to go. I can’t look back and think about those things. All I’m thinking about now is my career with the Mariners and what I can do to help the team and get better.”

Paxton wound up receiving a $942,500 signing bonus from the Mariners, according to Baseball America — more than the estimated $800,000 the M’s gave to their top pick in the same draft, pitcher Taijuan Walker (No. 43 overall). As Baseball America pointed out, Paxton’s bonus is more than four times MLB’s recommended amount of $209,700 for the 132nd overall pick — an indication of how highly the Mariners regard his potential.

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