Name: James Paxton
Notable 2011 Stats: 2.73 ERA, 2.24 FIP, 1 HRA, 30 BB, 80 K, and 47% GB% in 56 IP with Clinton (A);
1.85 ERA, 2.33 FIP, 2 HRA, 13 BB, 51 K, and 57% GB% in 39 IP with Jackson (AA);
2.37 ERA, 2.28 FIP, 3 HRA, 43 BB, 131 K, and 51% GB% in 95 IP total
Why He’s This High: Paxton had a big first year of pro ball. A 22-year-old top prospect should be expected to dominate Low-A, and he certainly did just that, striking out 80 batters in 56 innings; however, his 30 walks raised some concern. A promotion to Double-A revealed that to be merely rust, as his walk rate dropped dramatically and he continued to strike out tons of batters.
Paxton has a classic pitcher’s build at 6’4″ 220, and he gets excellent leverage in his sound delivery. He pounds the bottom of the zone with two-seam and four-seam fastballs that come in in the 90-96 mph range. He complements the fastball with a big overhand curveball that flummoxes batters from both sides of the plate.
Once Paxton got his command working in Double-A, he eliminated his biggest weakness. If he can maintain that profile, the sky is the limit.
Why He’s This Low: Paxton is still working on a changeup. It’s less of a necessity for him than most pitchers, as his curveball is so good that he can use it to neutralize righthanders, and his straight-over-the-top arm angle also makes him less vulnerable to opposite-side hitters than most. Still, it would be nice to see him come up with a more reliable third pitch.
We can’t simply write his control problems off entirely just because he held them in check for 39 innings. He’ll need to show he can actually keep throwing strikes over the balance of a full season if he’s going to become a frontline starter.
Paxton threw just 95 innings this year, and while he has a very sturdy frame, he still needs to prove he can handle a big-league workload and maintain his stuff over the balance of the season.
Like a lot of tall pitchers, he can lose his release point sometimes; while his delivery is mechanically sound, he doesn’t always repeat it. Doing so more consistently would help put his command issues to bed.
Conclusions: Paxton has borderline ace potential, as few lefties have better fastball/curve combinations. However, he’s now already 23 years old and still has a number of mild flaws which make him more raw than a lot of the pitchers in this tier (yesterday’s prospect, Nestor Molina, is two months younger and much more polished, for example, as are #45 and #46 prospects Matt Harvey and Danny Hultzen).
Since he only has 95 pro innings under his belt, it’s quite possible that Paxton is able to correct most of his issues. If he does, there’s nothing to hold him back from becoming one of baseball’s top lefthanders.
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