Among the top pitching prospects in the Mariners organization and in the entire minor leagues, left-hander James Paxton -- a 4th round selection in 2010 by Seattle after being selected in the 1st round in 2009 then being forced to sit out a year -- sports a 2.73 career ERA and 10.8 strikeouts-per-nine in his 38 starts in the M's system over the past two seasons with 28 of those starts coming at the Double-A level.
James took some time out during his FanFest activities to talk with me about his mechanics, his favorite pitchers from his youth, the talented arms in Jackson from this past year and what he hopes to take from his second big league camp starting next month.
SeattleClubhouse: Welcome back to FanFest again, James. Growing up roughly 20 miles from the Washington border, were you a Mariners fan growing up in Ladner, BC?
James Paxton: I was. I had a lot of friends that were Blue Jays fans, actually. But me, I was always more of a Mariners fan. My family and I would often come down and watch those guys growing up. One of my favorite pitchers to watch was Randy Johnson, so naturally that made me a Mariners fan, so I kind of battled with my friends a bit on that.
SC: Rehashing a story you've touched on a number of times, how difficult and stressful was the 2009 draft process for you? Obviously you were a highly rated prospect, but when negotiations broke down, were you worried about your stock moving forward?
JP: That was a very tough time for me. Very, very tough. Obviously turning down Toronto was hard on me and it wasn't easy to go through, and the year after that was even harder, honestly. But I'm glad to be passed that, glad to be with the Seattle Mariners now and things couldn't be better -- I'm just happy to be where I am now.
SC: You have pitched very well ever since breaking into the system, but last year after you missed time with the knee injury it seemed like your performance was really honed in. What changed mechanically for you during that time off?
JP: Most of it, honestly, was just being 100% healthy. I felt like my body was kind of compensating a little bit because I was hurt and I wasn't finishing my pitches properly. Once I started feeling better and took those four or five weeks off, I started feeling a lot better and I could finish my pitches with that strength that a healthy knee could give me and that made all the difference in the world.
SC: I've read that Andy Pettitte is one of your favorite players and your delivery has a lot of Pettitte in it, especially on the back side – was that by design or just your natural motion that is a coincidence?
JP: Funny you mention that, I was asked about that upstairs yesterday, actually. I didn't do it on purpose, but everyone that I talk to says that I resemble him and he's always been one of my favorite pitchers to watch. I don't know, it just kind of happened that way, maybe subconsciously, but it's pretty cool to have that comparison made.
SC: Obviously "The Big Three" gets a lot of attention, but Jackson had an amazing amount of pitching talent throughout the season last year, both with the starting rotation and in the bullpen. What did you take away from working with so many talented arms during the year?
JP: You know, it helped to have those guys all there because all of them are so talented. I just know that they're all going to make it to the big leagues in time. And just being able to talk to them about pitching and about what they're doing -- them helping me, me helping them -- that really made us all tighter and that chemistry is going to be really exciting when we're all together again at the big league level.
SC: You've slowly been working up your innings count the past few seasons, do you feel comfortable and confident that you'll be stretching that out even further in 2013?
JP: I do, yeah. My arm is pretty resilient, I don't really get tired easily. I feel like I can handle quite a few pitches and innings so I think that they're going to try and get me up to that innings total that I'll need to be able to handle to be a big leaguer in a rotation.
SC: This will be your 2nd straight time in big league camp for spring training, what benefits do you see and try to take from this opportunity?
JP: Last year I was a little bit starstruck, seeing some of the big league players that I grew up watching on TV. This year I'm already feeling a lot more comfortable. I've built up relationships with some of those veterans and just overall I'm feeling more comfortable with myself being around those guys and seeing the possibility of having those guys as teammates is very exciting.
SC: What is your biggest emphasis in your personal Player Development Plan for the upcoming year?
JP: We haven't gone over that in detail yet for the upcoming season, but the big thing for me this past year was improving my changeup. Then obviously improving fastball command and command of all of your pitches is always high up the list for us pitchers. And improving my fielding, getting quicker off the mound and things like that are important for me.
SC: What are your goals for the 2013 season and beyond?
JP: I'd love to be playing in Seattle, obviously, but I'm just going to go out there and do what I do and see what the coaches and the front office think.
SC: Very good. Well I wish you well in 2013 and beyond, James. Thanks again for your time.
JP: Anytime, thank you Rick.
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