Pitching prospect Paxton front page news

BOB ELLIOTT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:25 AM ET

When James Paxton was in Grade 11, he earned British Columbia Premier club honours for the North Delta Blue Jays.

Paxton was a big dog at Mackie Park, just the way Jeff Francis and Justin Morneau were as high-schoolers.

And now, the lefty with the University of Kentucky Wildcats is headed for first-round territory Tuesday night when the three-day Major League Baseball draft of high schoolers and collegians begins at 6 p.m. from MLB Network world headquarters in Secaucus, N.J.

"A year ago it was a big deal to get my name in the Kentucky Kernel," Paxton said.

The Kentucky Kernel?

"Our school newspaper," Paxton explained. "This spring my picture was front page."

We live in a world where baseball people knew the No. 1 talent for Tuesday's draft a year ago -- San Diego State right-hander Stephen Strasburg -- and the same people can tell you the best in 2010, 2011, all the way to who is the best 12-year-old in North America.

Paxton emerged as a surprise.

He split time between the rotation and the bullpen in 2008, but this year he dominated.

He estimates maybe 30 calls from prospective advisors before deciding to settle with Scott Boras -- if the Jays take Paxton with the 20th overall pick, he will be the first Boras client for the Jays since Robbie Alomar, who switched agents after his arbitration hearing in 1991.

Coach Gary Henderson told Paxton's parents for his start against Vanderbilt Commodores' Mike Minor that "extra chairs had to be placed behind home plate for all the scouts."

Paxton's coming out party was a start against the third-ranked LSU Fightin' Tigers before 8,954 fans in Baton Rouge, La. He walked two and struck out 14 in six innings, getting a no decision.

"It was an eye-opener," Paxton said.

Paxton allowed 20 walks while striking out 115 in 78.1 innings. He struck out an average of 13.22 hitters per nine innings, ranking third-best in college ball.

Strasburg had 15.88 strikeouts per nine.

Paxton was 5-3, with a 5.86 earned run average. His velocity tailed off in the final two starts, but his pitch count at times reached 135.

"I had to learn to deal with all the attention, I guess I tried to hide from it at the beginning," said Paxton, 20. "After the mid-point of the season I felt I needed to accept it all, have fun with it.

"I wish I had have done that from the start of season."

It appears Paxton learned how to cope. Keith Law of ESPN has Paxton ranked eighth on his top 100 list.

Paxton is ranked 26th on Perfect Game's top 100 list and 37th on Baseball America's list.

Spirit of '89 returns

With this being the 20th anniversary of the opening of the SkyDome, members of the 1989 team were at the game last night for a crowded Flashback Friday. Kelly Gruber, Tom Henke, Mike Flanagan, Mookie Wilson, Jesse Barfield, Tony Fernandez, Duane Ward and Nelson Liriano were in town. Flanagan recalled pitching for Valencia in 1975-76 in winter ball with Cito Gaston as his teammate. The next year he was asked to return south."

We'll give you $10,000 a month," said the general manager. Flanagan declined saying he didn't want to pitch winter ball.

"OK, we'll give, you $11,000." Another no.

"We'll give you $12,000." Another no.

"We'll give you $13,000." Once again, a no.

"We'll give you $15,000." Negative.

"OK, then, you are banned from pitching in Venezuela for life."

Clubhouse road warriors

Back in February we asked Travis Snider what he did for excitement on a rainy day in Dunedin. His answer was play Super Mario Kart. He said of his regular group --Adam Lind, Joe Inglett and Brian Tallet --that Tallet was the champ.

So a third of the way through the season, we checked in on the super racers.

"I may have been the best," Tallet said, "but that was back in the day. Lind is the best now. He always picks Waluigi."

Speaking of Snider, the Jays are 3-9 since he was demoted heading into last night.

Spotting wrassler Ric Flair interviewed on the TV in the clubhouse this week. Lind was told that the amazing Flair was a 16-time world champ.

"That means he lost 15 times too, doesn't it?" asked Lind.

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THE BOOK ON ...

Toronto Blue Jays, Pitcher, Roy Halladay

What a major league scout says ...

"He's a throwback. He works hard, works quick and when he gets the ball, he likes to keep it. When I come into the park and he's pitching, I expect to see him throw nine.

"He can win without his best stuff, too. The other night in Atlanta he did not have his good change. But he has that guile and that great intangible competitors have. He always seems to throw a pitch the hitter is not expecting.

"He's my vote for the Cy Young award --but I don't have a vote."

"I first saw him pitching for Syracuse in Pawtucket. His velocity was down that day, maybe 86-90 m.p.h., but he still competed and never lost the ability to pitch inside. This was before he had his cutter.

"He takes so much pride in wanting to finish like Nolan Ryan or Bert Blyleven."

Weakness: "Sometimes he uses too many cutters inside on certain left-handed hitters -- now mind you a lot of the times they swing and miss. The only other thing is he does not hold runners that well."

Strengths: "His pitching makeup is so incredible. He usually has a feel for three of his four pitches. I evaluate great ones on how they handle the core hitters in the other lineup. He gets them out."

Season Stats

G W L IP BB K ERA

12 9 1 91.0 12 82 2.77

Sun Rating: 5 out of 5

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THE TOP 5

JAYS PICKS

The most productive Jays draft selections to this point, since selecting shortstop Tom Goffena in the first round in 1977.

JEFF KENT

The 1989 pick had 46 hits for the Jays, 2,461 in all, headed to Cooperstown, signed by Dave Blume.

DAVID WELLS

Drafted in 1982, Wells had 239-157 career mark pitching in 3,439 innings, signed by Larry Maxie.

DAVE STIEB

This 1979 pick was 176-137 in his career, pitching 2,895 innings, signed by Bobby Mattick.

JOHN OLERUD

Olerud, who was drafted in 1989, had 2,239 hits, 255 homers and 1,230 RBIs, signed by Andy Pienovi.

ROY HALLADAY

The 1995 draftee has a 140-67 record to this point, 1,899 innings, signed by Bus Campbell.

NORTHERN LIGHTS

COLE ARMSTRONG, SURREY, B.C.

CATCHER, TRIPLE-A CHARLOTTE

With the North Delta Blue Jays as a high-schooler, Armstrong was Justin Morneau's backup. Now he's bidding for a promotion to the Chicago White Sox roster. Armstrong had a good week -- the best of the 75 Canadian minor-leaguers -- hitting .455 (5-for-11) with two RBIs.

Runners-up: Closer Henry Mabee of Victoria, B.C., with two saves in 21/3 scoreless for class-A Winston-Salem (White Sox); Chris Robinson of Dorchester, Ont., hit .400 at triple-A Iowa (Cubs); Vancouver's Jim Adduci, .370 at double-A Tennessee (Cubs); Jordan Lennerton, Langley, B.C., .353 at class-A West Michigan (Tigers) and Rene Tosoni, Coquitlam, B.C., .348 at double-A New Britain (Twins).

IN DEMAND

Leading up to Tuesday's draft, Guelph outfielder Josh Garton has been busy. After hitting .386 with 16 homers and 39 RBIs at Volunteer State College this spring, Garton was invited to private workouts by the Blue Jays, Royals, Braves, Phillies, White Sox, Orioles, Reds, Marlins and Giants.


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