LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky senior southpaw James Paxton has been tabbed as the seventh-best college baseball prospect available for the 2010 MLB Draft, Baseball America announced Wednesday.
Paxton, a 6-foot-4 220-pound left-hander, was rated as the top Southeastern Conference prospect available in the 2010 draft, just ahead of No. 8 Zach Cox, a Louisville, Ky., native and Arkansas third baseman. Paxton and Cox are among the seven SEC players in the top-25 college prospect listing, joining Drew Pomeranz (Ole Miss), Bryan Morgado (Tennessee), Sam Dyson (South Carolina), Brett Eibner (Arkansas) and Justin Grimm (Georgia). Paxton was rated as the second-best left-handed college pitcher available, just behind Florida Gulf Coast’s Chris Sale, who emerged as a prospect during the summer in the Cape Cod League.
A native of Ladner, British Columbia, Paxton became the highest drafted college player in 2009 to elect to return to school, as the Toronto Blue Jays selected Paxton in the supplemental first round with the 37th overall selection.
Last season, Paxton finished the year as UK’s Friday night starter, ranking third in the NCAA in strikeouts per nine innings (13.2), fanning 115 in 78.1 innings. In 13 starts last year, Paxton totaled a 5-3 record and a 5.86 ERA. He walked just 20 and allowed opponents to hit for a .266 average. With 115 punchouts, Paxton ranks fifth-best in the 105-year history of the Kentucky program, marking just the 10th player in program history to eclipse 100 strikeouts in a season. Paxton, southpaw Chris Rusin (108 strikeouts in 94.1 IP) and right-hander Alex Meyer (80 strikeouts in 59.2 IP) teamed to help UK set a new season strikeout record, as the UK staff fanned 523 in 2009, breaking the previous record of 502 team strikeouts in 1995.
Paxton’s ERA was inflated in 2009 courtesy of three outings that saw the lefty allow five or more runs. Without those three outings, Paxton totaled a 5-0 record and a 3.95 ERA in 10 starts, hurling 66 innings with 101 strikeouts and a .218 opponent batting average. Seven times in 2009, Paxton struck out 10 or more hitters in a game.
In the last three years, five UK players have been drafted and opted to return to Kentucky for their fourth season. All five players have seen their draft status improved by the decision, including Rusin, who was drafted in the 23rd round of the 2008 MLB Draft before returning to school and becoming a fourth-round selection in 2009. Catcher Sean Coughlin was picked in the 42nd round in 2006 and after an All-American season in 2007, was selected in the 13th round. In 2008, three Kentucky players improved their draft status. Kentucky All-Americans Sawyer Carroll and Collin Cowgill, along with hard-throwing pitcher Scott Green each moved up at least 12 rounds in the draft. Carroll was drafted in the 18th round in 2007 and the third round in 2008. Cowgill, a Lexington, Ky., native, was drafted 29th round in 2007 but the fifth round in 2008. Green, a Louisville, Ky., native, was drafted 15th round in 2007 but third round in 2008.