Taijuan Walker gets most of the attention when it comes to Seattle Mariners pitching prospects, but James Paxton has proven that he deserves to be in the conversation as well.
A fourth-round pick out of the University of Kentucky in 2010, Paxton reached double-A in 2011, going 12-4 with a 2.72 ERA there over the course of two seasons. He reached triple-A last season and posted some unspectacular numbers, going 8-11 with a 4.45 ERA, but received a September call-up and performed well. In four major league starts, Paxton went 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA, striking out 21 batters and walking just seven in 24 innings.
Baseball America has Paxton listed as the third-best prospect in the Mariners organization heading into the 2014 season. Paxton was also listed as having the best curveball among prospects in the same publication. He finds himself in contention for a spot in the starting rotation this spring. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma have the top two spots in the rotation locked up, but beyond that, things are up for grabs.
Paxton will compete with Walker, Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer for the final three spots. It is a young group of candidates, as all four made their major league debuts last season.
As it is right now, Paxton is probably the odd man out of the group. Ramirez and Maurer spent the majority of the season in the majors last season, and Walker is viewed as a better option than Paxton. In addition to that, Paxton struggled a bit at triple-A and could be a candidate to return there to improve.
It all depends on how well Paxton pitches in Spring Training. Whatever happens, he should find himself in the majors for good at some point this season, whether it’s on Opening Day or later on.