Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker are the more hyped prospects in Double-A Jackson's rotation. Just don't call James Paxton the Generals' third wheel.
The former fourth-round pick put on opening act that will be tough for his fellow Mariners prospects to follow, striking out 10 over 5 2/3 scoreless innings Friday as Jackson edged the Birmingham Barons, 2-1.
"Going out there for the first time [this season], I was just trying to be aggressive," Paxton said. "I wanted to be in the zone, throwing strikes, making the guys swing the bat, being consistent.
"It was great to get back out there. It's definitely different with the fans in the stadium, the lights are on. It was a lot of fun tonight."
The Generals rotation figures to draw a lot of attention, with Paxton joined by Hultzen, the second overall pick in the 2011 Draft and MLB.com's No. 16 overall prospect, and Walker, ranked No. 18.
Paxton said the trio plans to use its time together to pick things up from one other and build off their respective success.
"We spent a lot of time together in Spring Training, too. I really like those guys," he added. "We want to help each other out, learn from each other and help each other move along through the season."
On Friday, it was Paxton -- pegged No. 77 by MLB.com -- who looked like the most advanced of the three. He relied on two-seam and four-seam fastballs, with a little less emphasis on his curveball.
"Early in the game. I was throwing a lot of four-seamers, feeling good. Then the curveballs came along and I was able to throw those for strikes," the University of Kentucky product said. "Later, I was throwing a two-seamer that was moving for me, missing bats, so that felt good."
Paxton noted that one of the things he also wants to work on as the season progresses is a changeup he tinkered with earlier this spring. He was able to harness it for the most part against Birmingham.
"That's something I've been trying to throw more, to get more comfortable with," he said. "I was able to throw it for some strikes there at the end, thought I threw some good ones. It's something I just need to continue to work on."
Paxton spent some time with Jackson last season, his first full year of pro ball, making seven starts after a promotion from Class A Clinton. He didn't experience any difficulties transitioning to the new level, going 3-0 with a 1.85 ERA while striking out 51 batters and walking 13 over 39 innings.
Those results earned Paxton a brief trip to Major League camp with Seattle, where he pitched two innings in his lone appearance. He said one of the most important insights he picked up was seeing the approach big league hitters take at the plate.
"Watching those guys go about their business was big for me," he said. "You just watch the hitters and their swings and how they work different counts and you start to understand a lot more."
With the numbers he's put up and his experience, it's possible Paxton won't be staying long in Jackson. But the British Columbia native said he's mostly just thinking about mastering the mechanical things that have made him successful so far.
"I just want to be more consistent, get ahead of hitters," he said. "I'm focusing on the process more than the results."