James Paxton Scouting Report
JD: Sorry for the delay on this piece. Conor finished his write up well before I did, and I felt bad holding him back any longer. I scrapped my write up but I concur with everything he wrote. When he's on, Paxton looks like a monster.
I love Paxton's delivery. It's longer than you'd typically like, but it's buttery smooth and he gets deceptive speed through the end of it after his arm starts coming forward. Also, unlike many long deliveries, he keeps the ball hidden very, very well, making it as hard as he can to keep batters from picking up his pitch. It's also a very repeatable delivery, and shows little variation even as he fatigues. Pitchers at his development level often struggle out of the stretch, but he uses a simple, clean slide step that works well to quicken his time to the plate without wreaking havoc with his delivery.
The only thing here I might consider tweaking is his leg kick in his wind-up. It's very, very high, and could cause some issues down the line, especially if he picks up any injuries to his legs. However, I wouldn't even think about changing it unless it seems like it's becoming an issue, as what he's doing now seems to be working very well for him, and you don't want to mess with a good thing just for the sake of messing with it. It's really more of something to keep in mind for the future.
Paxton is very good at staying on top of his pitches, even as he fatigues. That should help him avoid late-game fades during his career, though he does have some issues with his finishing slipping at times, which could hurt him with his offspeed stuff, mostly on the change.
Consistency is the key for most pitchers to harness their fastball, and Paxton seems to have figured that out. His release point is rock-solid, only drifting a little late in his start. It just explodes out of his hand, and it seemed like a lot of the batters he faced had a hard time tracking it all the way to the plate. Making the pitch even more effective is the downplane action Paxton's pitch gets thanks to his arm action and height. Smokies batters just couldn't square up on it at all.
Holy sweet babies, batman. There's filthy, and then there's James Paxton's curve. That might be the easiest pitch I've ever put a plus-plus assessment on for a minor leaguer. It's big, it's hard, and it makes me sweat nervously just watching him throw it. I can't even imagine facing that thing. It's got a big downward bite that runs at a slight angle relative to the plate that most hitters can really only just waive helplessly at, hoping to catch a piece of it and foul it off.
The especially ludicrous thing is Paxton's command of the curve. Jesus Sucre would put his mitt down, Paxton would throw a curve, and he'd nail the spot almost every time. That nasty of a curve just should not be that well-commanded, especially not by a minor leaguer. Even when he missed, he missed low and generally away from the batter, making it tough to take advantage of. It's just not fair.
I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Paxton's change in this game. I'd heard a lot of varying reports as to it's quality last year, so didn't know for sure what to expect. What I got was a pitch that the Smokies batters appeared to have little ability to differentiate from his fastball, inducing a lot of whiffs and weak contact. It's probably never going to be a super pitch for Paxton, certainly not on the same scale as his fastball and curve, but compared to the rest of his arsenal it's a very effective pitch when used right and good for keeping batters off-balance.
What I liked seeing was that later in the game as Paxton was clearly fatiguing and his fastball command was slipping, he started working in the change more liberally, and it really helped him extend his outing. I counted seven of them thrown to a four-batter sequence during the fourth and fifth innings, and each of the four batters struck out. The best any of the four could do with the change was a foul tip. For a clear third pitch, that's a pretty nice thing to be able to do.
This was the biggest question for Paxton coming in to the year. Last year, he showed much greater progress than expected, but his command was clearly behind his stuff. He threw too many pitches to too many batters, shortening his outings and forcing his bullpen to work more. This outing saw the same problem. He walked just one against his seven strikeouts, but couldn't put batters away too many times, leading to high pitch counts to too many hitters. That lead to him lasting just 88 pitches and 4 2/3 innings. Now, it's early in the year, but Paxton still needs to put a lot of work in to refining his command. If he can even make incremental improvements over each of the next few months, he could skyrocket in a hurry.
I do have one concern about Paxton going forward. While he gave up very little in the way of hard contact (I can think of only one hard-hit ball during his outing), Smokies batters were able to make contact with a fair number of his pitches. While most of them were fouled off, weakly popped up, or otherwise unimpressive, I'm worried that better quality hitters will be able to square Paxton up better and punish him.
The curve is nigh-untouchable, and the change should draw a fair number of whiffs, but if a batter feels that he can make contact with Paxton's fastball, he'll get plenty of chances to do so. I don't think he'll give up a ton of hard contact, but sometimes quantity beats out quality, and quantity of contact certainly gives a chance at giving up more quality contact. Hopefully command refinements will help this issue, and even then I'm not certain it'll be a huge deal down the line. But if there's any one potential concern to keep in the back of your head, I think that's the one.