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February 13, 2012 at 9:10 AM

The trio bringing hope to Mariners fans everywhere

Talk all we want about reduced payrolls and lowered expectations — and don’t worry, we will eventually — but there is still a trio of young arms bringing hope to Mariners fans everywhere. You can see them in the photo above, shot moments ago as the team warms up on the field ahead of today’s workout.
That’s Taijuan Walker in front, Danny Hultzen in the middle and James Paxton in the back. The three young pitchers, all projected for the front or middle of the major league rotation at some point, are keeping hopes alive for Mariners fans that the squad will contend at some point in coming years.
Paxton might be the closest of all three to the majors, given his considerable time in Class AA last season. Hultzen has yet to throw a pitch in affiliated pro ball while Walker rose to the high Class A ranks last season and could be the best of the three.
But Paxton could be in the majors in coming months. He told me today he’s been working on a changeup since late last season and truth be told, how quickly he polishes it could be his ticket to the bigs.

“It’s something I’ve been working on for a while and that they figure is going to help me by adding another weapon,” said the fastball-throwing left-hander, who also has a curveball he gets hitters out with.
Paxton grew up in British Columbia. My fellow Canadian told me he got into baseball because his dad played it and since his parents were none too keen on getting up at 5 a.m. to drive him to hockey practice.
Trust me, as a veteran Canuck, I can tell you that a shortage of ice time spells the end of many an aspiring hockey career, given how early it forces young kids to practice so that their teams can afford the rental in non-peak hours.
Anyhow, Paxton is now here, having just completed his first affiliated pro season last year. He spent 2010 in the independent leagues after being denied permission to return to the college ranks.
Paxton was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the first round in 2009, but decided to go back to school instead. After the NCAA ruled he couldn’t play because he’d done some things that technically made him a pro, he played for the Grand Prairie independent team.
“The only thing that really set me back a bit was that it limited the innings I was able to throw, as opposed to if I’d signed and gone to a major league organization,” said Paxton, who made just four starts there spanning 7 2/3 innings.
That innings reduction caused Paxton’s draft stock to tumble and enabled the Mariners to snag him in the fourth round in June 2010. Paxton went 3-3 with a 2.73 ERA in 10 starts for Class A Clinton last year, then 3-0 with a 1.85 ERA for AA Jackson. He had 131 combined strikeouts against only 43 walks over 95 innings.
Those are some big numbers. If he can post some big ones this spring, he could be in the majors sooner than many people think.
“I’m just honored to be invited here,” said Paxton, not required to be on the 40-man roster yet given his limited time as a pro. “This is a fantastic opportunity and I’m going to try to learn as much as I can.”



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