What about James Paxton?


Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Tanaka fever is subsiding a little bit in Seattle. For a few days it seemed like we were only counting down the hours until the Mariners announced their second big name signing of the off-season. But his recent trip across the Pacific seemed to indicate that the Japanese ace might not be as interested in Seattle as we had once thought. So while Jack and company try to weave their magic (and find some more money), we’re left waiting to see what the rotation will look like in April.

Yesterday, JJ took a look at some prospective pitchers the Mariners could pursue if the Tanaka sweepstakes doesn’t pan out for them. While there is certainly a great deal of talent available, and even more options through trade, the Mariners still have some decisions to make with regards to who to bring up from the farm system.

As it stands right now, the starting rotation will be (1) Felix Hernandez, and (2) Hisashi Iwakuma. Slots 3-5 are wide open. For a Mariners team that is employing the ‘win now’ strategy, it might be prudent to fill out those numbers a little bit more. For that reason I think we can fully expect to see at least one starting pitcher make their way to Seattle before the team heads to Peoria.

Lets assume they do that and there are two remaining spots in the rotation. The way I see it, (and JJ touched on this yesterday), those two slots should be filled by two of the following guys: Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer.

By all accounts, Taijuan is pretty much MLB ready, the games he got in last September gave us a taste of what we can expect, and I think the Mariners would have a lot of explaining to do if they leave him off of the Seattle roster in 2014.

That leaves Paxton, Ramirez and Maurer up for one spot. Is it really feasible to see James Paxton in that spot?

Paxton is easily viewed as the front runner for that position. His incredible showing during the September call-ups in 2013 made us all think twice about just how many pitchers the Mariners had waiting in the wings.

Over four starts last September, Paxton went 3-0 with an ERA of 1.50 and WHIP of 0.917. Those are very, very impressive numbers. Especially if you recall that those starts were against four teams in the midst of a Wild Card berth. Tampa, St Louis, Detroit and Kansas City were all thwarted by the arm of the relatively unknown Paxton.

Those are some star caliber batters that Paxton was able to beat during those starts, and he certainly turned some heads while doing so. He has certainly earned the possibility of being in the starting five for the big club come April.

Where there is some cause for concern are his starts in Tacoma. I’ll admit, when I first heard that James Paxton was coming to Seattle to make a start in place of Felix (he was out with an injury at the time), I was a little bit amazed. His season in Tacoma was fine, but it certainly wasn’t anything that made me want him in Seattle.

In 2013 Paxton went 8-11 in Tacoma over 26 starts. His ERA was an inflated 4.45.

For comparison’s sake, those numbers are virtually the same as Kevin Millwood‘s numbers were in 2012 with the M’s (6-12, ERA 4.25 over 28 starts). I think we can all agree that we weren’t overly happy with that performance.

Paxton did win the PCL pitcher of the week award at the end of last June.  But he also threw a few elephants that same summer. In August he was pulled after only 2.2 innings and three earned runs, and then a week later went 4.2 innings and gave up eight earned runs on eight hits.

Streaky would certainly be the way to describe that.

I get it, he’s young, he threw some wicked games against some top caliber teams, and there is certainly room to grow. But I’m very hesitant to push him into that spot after only seeing him a few times last year. We were all quick to hop on the Brandon Maurer train after his incredible Spring Training session, but he came up to Seattle and got rocked a few weeks later. Maurer went back to Tacoma to get some time in at AAA.

It’s fine to hold onto a pitcher when he’s hot, and Paxton was very, very hot at the end of September. It’s going to be a real test to see if he can win out a slot in the rotation against Erasmo Ramirez and Brandon Maurer.

I like him, I was floored when we saw him last September, and I really want to see him again this year. If he can get hot, and stay hot, then I think there’s little doubt we’ll be hearing a lot more from James Paxton.