PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — When James Paxton and Taijuan Walker were included in the Seattle Mariners' major league camp last spring, it served as a reward for their performance in the minors with no real expectation that their major league debuts were imminent.
This year, the top two pitching prospects in the organization aren't just in camp to get experience throwing against a major league roster. They know the Mariners want them to win jobs coming out of spring training to solidify the back end of the rotation.
That changes the game a little bit.
"After having that time in the big leagues and feeling that I belong I come into this camp feeling like I think I can do it and I have a chance of starting the year with the club," said Paxton, a tall 25-year-old left-hander. "I feel good about where I'm at right now and I'm looking forward to getting out there and competing."
Paxton and Walker are the biggest names among a foursome of young pitchers vying for rotation spots. Erasmo Ramirez has the most experience of the young group and could end up in the rotation as well, and Brandon Maurer started last season in the rotation before being sent to the minors.
But Paxton and Walker are the focus. They have been followed and analyzed in the farm system. They both had brief stints with Seattle at the end of last season that only ramped up their future hopes. Paxton made four starts, going 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA. Walker made three starts with a 1-0 record and 3.60 ERA.
"It was great I thought," Walker said. "Just getting in the big leagues where you want to be to the highest level you can be at, going out there and just facing big league hitters, the travel, the big league clubhouse, just seeing how it all is, just getting g taste of what it was all like. It was definitely motivation."
There concern that Walker is falling behind. He showed up for camp with a sore throwing shoulder and has been limited to throwing off flat ground so far. The hope is to get him throwing in the bullpen soon but he's not scheduled as one of the starters for the first week of spring training games.