James Paxton's path to top prospect status has been filled with twists and turns.
Paxton, a native of Vancouver, was originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the first round of the 2009 Draft. After being unable to come to terms on a contract with the club, the 23-year-old left-hander was not allowed to return to the University of Kentucky's baseball team on the basis of his relationship with agent Scott Boras.
Instead, Paxton went back into the Draft in '10, when he was scooped up by the Mariners in the fourth round. He signed with the club in March 2011 and went on to have a very strong campaign, going 6-3 with a 2.37 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 17 starts between Class A Clinton and Double-A Jackson.
Seattle's No. 2 pitching prospect took time out of his first full Spring Training to talk about his lost season, his friendship with Mike Moustakas and getting a chance to play for his favorite team.
MiLB.com: How tough was it to not pitch in 2010?
James Paxton: It was tough to not be able to pitch competitively for a while there. I threw a lot of bullpens and kept on working on my craft. It was definitely different not competing in games and only getting 17 innings playing independent ball in Grand Prairie (Texas). It took me a little while to get back into it and shake the rust off it, but I'm definitely feeling good now and am ready to go.
MiLB.com: Were you worried about the effect not pitching collegiately in 2010 would have on your draft position?
Paxton: I wasn't really thinking about it too much. All I can do is go out there and pitch. The circumstances were what they were, and I'm really happy with where I'm at right now.
MiLB.com: All things considered, how pleased were you with your 2011 season?
Paxton: I thought it was good. My first season -- kind of my first season in a while -- I felt good about it. I cut down on my walks toward the end of the season after I had some time in Clinton and got to work with Rich Dorman, the pitching coach there, and then went to Double-A and furthered myself there working with Lance Painter. Things came along nicely and I ended up being pleased with the season I had.
MiLB.com: You developed a friendship in 2010 with Kansas City's Mike Moustakas. How did that come about?
Paxton: I was training down in California down at the Boras complex and needed a place to stay, and Mike had an extra room. He offered me to stay in his place and I did. He invited me back to come stay with him this year. We've become pretty good friends -- he's a great guy to be friends with.
MiLB.com: What have you learned from him about playing in the Majors?
Paxton: Biggest thing I got from him is to be yourself and do your thing and not change too many things. It's just another level, and he says to just stay yourself and keep working hard.
MiLB.com: You signed in March 2011, so this is your first full Spring Training experience. How is it going?
Paxton: It's awesome to come into big league Spring Training and be here from the start. There are some really good guys in camp, some veteran guys that you get to watch and learn from. I couldn't be more excited to be where I'm at right now.
MiLB.com: Are there any pitchers in particular you like to watch and try to learn from?
Paxton: I've been watching all kinds of guys right now. Some of the guys that have been around for a while, especially guys like Kevin Millwood. Obviously, you're watching guys like Felix [Hernandez] and [Jason] Vargas, guys that have been around a while and know what to do. You watch them and see how they handle their business.
MiLB.com: There's been some talk about you possibly making the Majors out of Spring Training, like Michael Pineda did last season. What do you think about that?
Paxton: I mean that's awesome, I think that will be great for me. But you don't know what's going to happen. I haven't had any conversations with [manager Eric] Wedge or [pitching coach Carl] Willis about where I'm going to be at the start of the season. It's just more of a thing where I can go out there and do the best I can and see where I end up.
MiLB.com: Some scouting reports say that your changeup is behind your fastball and curveball. Where would you say it is?
Paxton: I spent a lot of time this offseason working on my changeup and I am starting to feel a lot more comfortable with it. I'm keeping my arm speed up and I'm really looking forward to using it this year a lot more. In the bullpen sessions I'm having, I'm throwing it more consistently for strikes. I used it in an intrasquad game [Wednesday] for strikes.
MiLB.com: Did you have a team you grew up rooting for?
Paxton: Seattle was the team I grew up rooting for. I was only three hours north of Seattle, had some family in Seattle, so it was the closest place for us to go watch baseball games. They were always on TV. It was really cool to have them that close.
MiLB.com: It's got to be pretty amazing for you to be playing for them.
Paxton: Definitely, it was really cool to get drafted by them, being so close to home, and I'm really excited to be so close to Vancouver and have friends and family be able to come and watch at some point when I make it to Seattle.
MiLB.com: Did you play any other sports growing up?
Paxton: No, I didn't. Baseball was always my sport. I played soccer really young and I swam a little bit, but competitively past the age of 13, it was all baseball.
MiLB.com: Did you have an idea at that point you had a shot at a pro baseball career?
Paxton: Not at all. At 13 years old, I was still playing house league. I ended up in the [British Columbia] Premiere Baseball League for the North Delta Blue Jays, and that's kind of when college became a big thing for me. The opportunities were out there. I started hearing more about it and that was where I wanted to go. As college got along, [there was] talk about going pro, and it led to a pretty good thing for me.
MiLB.com: How did you end up at the University of Kentucky?
Paxton: I played for the Junior National Team for Canada, and I'm pretty sure some of the coaches knew the pitching coach of Kentucky. He came up and saw me pitch. I guess he liked what he saw, because they gave me an offer and I took it. It was pretty much one of the only offers I had from a Division I school to play college out of high school.
MiLB.com: What was your favorite ballpark to pitch in as a visitor last season?
Paxton: I think my favorite ballpark I had was when I was playing in the Midwest League for Clinton and we went to Fort Wayne, Indiana. They have a brand new ballpark (Parkview Field) there and it's an amazing field, it looked like a Triple-A ballpark.
MiLB.com: What do you like to do on an off-day?
Paxton: We don't get a whole lot of them right now, but just taking it easy, just relaxing, trying to rest up for the next day and that kind of thing. Getting the sleep in, that kind of thing. For the most part, just relaxing.
MiLB.com: What about during the offseason?
Paxton: I enjoy fishing. My grandparents have a cabin in the Gulf Islands, and I go up there and fish with my grandpa. I bring some friends up here and there and do some fishing. It's one of the things I like to do on the weekends.