Looking Back: Pazos Striking On All Cylinders

James Pazos finished the season posting a 1.09 ERA in Triple-A Scranton and still hasn't given up an earned run yet in eleven big league apperances. Looking back at his development, here's one of our magazine features on Pazos from July of 2012 when he first got drafted.

The manager slowly walks out of the dugout onto the grass. Simultaneously, he lifts his left hand, places his finger on his arm signaling to the bullpen. A stocky southpaw jogs to the mound, takes the ball from the coach and begins to warm up.

Over the public address speaker, Paul Olden enthusiastically announces, “Now pitching for your New York Yankees, James Pazos!”

He walks off the mound toward second; tucks in his uniform, adjusts his cap, grabs the rosin and tosses it back down. With the ball in his mitt he digs his right foot on the dirt mound adjacent to the rubber. From the stretch he shakes off a few pitches, looks off the runner at first and delivers a called strike into the catcher’s mitt.

Fans in Yankee stadium turn to one another with puzzled looks on their faces asking, “Who is this kid and where did he come from?"

The answer to that question is very simple. James Pazos was the 13th round pick for the New York Yankees in the 2012 draft.

Where did he come from as well, the fans asked? Well his journey most likely would have taken him through the minor league system but for now his baseball career began in the suburban town of Gilbert, Arizona, just about 30 minutes outside of Phoenix.

When he was eight years old his parents and older cousin Tony taught him the basic fundamentals of baseball. As a left-handed thrower, James was limited to a certain amount of positions. He played some first base but really found his niche on the pitching mound. Tony, who James believed played in the minors, was the most instrumental in helping him learn how to pitch.

“He taught me in my backyard just out of nowhere," Pazos said. "We were just messing around in the backyard one day and he just taught me how to pitch [and] taught me the basic windup.

He dominated hitters right away by getting ahead of the hitters.

“As a nine-year old travel ball guy, that was pretty common for him,” his father Julio Pazos stated. “He would come in, start the game, give up a couple hits, maybe three hits and a run, and that was it. He has the ability to just shut people down.”

“I was mostly a starter when I was younger and just blew everything by everybody so I never real got into too much trouble,” James said.

Besides his family helping him initially there was only so much they could do. Julio never played baseball competitively and there was only so much he could teach.

“I didn’t know a lot about baseball, so I had to read and talk to different people who did it for a living and get the education on the run, and help him be as good as he can be," Julio said. "And of course his high school coach and he played travel ball as well and we had an older gentleman that helped us, and he was real helpful in teaching him the basics in pitching and it was just kind of trial and error.”

Over time, Julio would become more accumulated with pitching strategies and would give his son advice.

“We always knew he could throw far but throwing hard and pitching are two different things. Well the one than the other. Over time we talked about situations if you throw the ball here, this is going to happen and if you throw this pitch this is going to happen,” he added.

In every season, the weather offers a new array of sports. Some regions witness snow while in James’ home state of Arizona, one will be harder pressed to find support for an ice hockey team. Despite the climate difference, sports still follow the typical pattern with athletes playing outdoors in the spring to fall months and indoors for the winter months. The varied seasons give athletes a chance to participate and excel in multiple sports.

James strapped on shoulder pads for football in the summer and fall months. In the winter, he wore a singlet for wrestling and then hopefully some stirrups for baseball in the spring. Like all exceptional young athletes, these sports were not geared toward one season but to all.

At a young age, James was an exceptional athlete and competitor, which can be attributed to his parent’s success as collegiate athletes. His mother, Teresa, played volleyball at the University of South Carolina, while his father was a two-sport athlete at Arizona State University, competing in football and wrestling.

“We have always been pretty competitive people and growing up he’s watched us play different sports, so yeah we’re pretty competitive in everything we do, so probably a little bit of that has rubbed off on him but the kid is just tenacious,” Julio Pazos said.

Despite playing all three sports throughout his high school career it was baseball where James’ heart was at.

“I think football might have gave baseball a run for its money but definitely baseball is where I stuck out,” Pazos said.

Initially the decision to focus on baseball did not sit well with Julio.

“It was brutal…it was brutal. In football, I got pictures of him hitting kids so hard that their helmet, you know how you wear a helmet and you look at the front of it, [were] looking at the side hole, the ear hole and that’s the kind of stuff I did when I was growing up and I loved that stuff.”

Besides football, Julio enjoyed his dominance on the wrestling mat as well.

“When he wrestled, there were times when the whole gym would just watch his match because he was so physical and that was really difficult, but in the long run I think we made the right decision and the fact that he got drafted by the Yankees, we are just ecstatic.”

For James, playing those two other sports didn’t go to waste. They have contributed to his success on the diamond. Not only does he want to challenge the hitters, he ultimately wants to break them.

“These other sports really helped him develop his aggressiveness and his competitive nature,” Julio stated. “And all those three things, well football and the wrestling combined I think has really helped his baseball and he is real tenacious on the mound.”

Donning a teal and black jersey with the number 5 stitched on the back for the Highland High School Hawks is where he first recognized that he could do something with this career.

“I think it was in high school and you start to get recruited for all the summer teams and there keep telling you if you come here we will get you to college. I just kept looking at (this) like I can do this,” Pazos said.

Besides gaining exposure playing in summer leagues the regional area codes also increased his desire to play at a more competitive level.

“Probably after his sophomore year we went to the Area Code games and they normally don’t take those young guys but he made it in between his sophomore and junior year, and then we realized that he was pretty good at this," Julio stated. “He enjoys it so lets do it.”

Dominating high school batters is what James did on a daily basis. In his first playoff game in his senior season, Julio does not recount a moment where his son gave up a hit in the entire game.

His illustrious high school baseball career included winning regions two years in a row and advancing to the state championship his senior year. In addition he was honored as an Arizona all-state selection and regional pitcher of the year award in his senior season as well.

On June 11, 2009, all the work that James put into baseball would be recognized at the major league level. In the 40th round, the Tampa Bay Rays drafted him with the 1,219th selection.

Getting drafted in its own right is a great honor but James believed he could advance his stock if he went to school.

“I got drafted pretty low out of high school and I thought I could do a little better and I tried to give that another shot coming out of junior college and then I decided to go to a four-year [school] after that,” James said.

In his only season at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, James compiled a 9-4 record with a 3.13 ERA in 95 innings of work.

Although his time was brief, Julio will never forget the time his son pitched a no-hitter against the team that won the national championship and learning what type of player and person he has become.

“Just watching this kid get better each time he goes out there; listening, learning and paying attention to what is being taught and working on it," Julio said. "This kid just wants to do well and he will do whatever it takes to build all of it.”

James packed his bag comprised mostly of sandals and bathing suits of course for his move out to the University of San Diego.

“It’s just a beautiful place to be, beautiful place to play, amazing coaching staff over there and they were giving me a full scholarship, so I couldn’t really pass that up,” Pazos said.

He started all three years in high school as well as the one-year in junior college, so starting seemed like where he would fit in with this team. In fact, he did start five games his first season but during the 2011 season the team struggled in March, only winning one game.

The coaching staff decided to shift guys around to try to figure out a solution as to why they were struggling, which resulted in James being sent to the bullpen.

Undeterred by the move to the bullpen, James became a key staple in the Toreros bullpen.

“I loved it," Pazos said. "Pitching when the game is on the line and when you are trying to get a win for the team is definitely a great feeling and then when you actually succeed everybody is all pumped giving handshakes and stuff, it’s such a great feeling.”

“James, last year was a pretty impact arm for us late in the games. We kind of rotated between three guys who were hot at the same time,” San Diego pitching coach Tyler Kincaid said. “James had a tendered elbow last year and he was kind of a one-pitch guy and he was still able to get it done.”

During the offseason, James had bone spurs surgically removed from his elbow, which allowed him to incorporate more pitches into his repertoire and become the set-up man for the 2012 season.

“This year he was the difference maker; he was the reason why our closer had 19 saves,” Kincaid stated. “He was the bridge between our starters and closer and he was one of the main reasons why we were successful.”

James' ability to break the hitters resulted in only allowing two extra-base hits in 63 innings as compared to allowing 14 in his first season.

“He actually attacked the strike zone a whole lot more this year. He was able to command three pitches, he had a fastball, slider and a changeup and the year before he was a one-pitch guy,” Kincaid said. “So throwing more strikes and throwing three quality pitches enabled him to have a lot more success this season.”

Having confidence in his pitches allowed James to feel composed on the mound and willing to conquer any challenges thrown his way.

“We had a Tuesday game against UC Irvine and were going for a season sweep against Irvine this year. It was actually a pretty big win because of RPI [Rating Percentage Index] and we needed to get into the tournament," Pazos recalled. "I actually came in for a three inning save, got out of a pretty big jam in the 7th and finished it.”

Despite his success at the University of San Diego, Kincaid believes there are areas where he can develop as a pitcher, but the sky’s the limit for this 6-foot-3, 230-pound physical specimen.

“He needs to add a consistent slider and then a more consistent repeatable delivery," Kincaid said. "He can kind of get over-aggressive at times and get out of discipline and out of his delivery a little bit, but if he does those two things, he has a fastball right now that beats most hitters; he commands it to both sides and elevates it.”

James knows that saying relaxed and pitching in control are key if he wants to take his game to the next level.

“You just really got to really relax and stay focused, and all the work you put in is going to transfer over to the game and you got to believe that you worked harder than the other game, and that you’re not going to fail," Pazos said. "And if you are pitching well then the team gets riled up and shutting the other team down is kind of a good feeling.”

If having a fastball, slider and changeup was not enough, James was eager to learn how to throw a cutter and the results have been promising so far.

“It came pretty easy to me and I just threw it like a fastball and it started working pretty well, so it’s just another pitch to have,” he revealed.

James only used the cutter in a couple of games last season and near the end of the season Kincaid tinkered with the pitch to help James develop a more threatening cutter to hitters.

“I think it’s going to be a huge pitch for him down the road in pro ball or with us next year if we are lucky enough to have him back,” Kincaid said.

Much to the disappointment of the University of San Diego baseball community, James will no longer don the number 35 on the Navy, Columbia blue and white jerseys anymore. Instead he is trading it in for Yankee pinstripes.

“Signing, it felt amazing," Pazos said. "One of the guys came out and I just finished doing conditioning and I was all sweaty and I was walking through the little maze out there and I was like ‘Wow I’m about to sign right now!’ I remember signing and walking out and calling my parents and just so excited that dreams come true.”

Julio and his family could not be any prouder of James’ decision to the join the Yankees’ family.

“It was a perfect fit. The Yankees are not just one of the best organizations in baseball but in the world. You just can’t turn down an opportunity like that. Our disappointment was the 13th round, he was projected to go three to five and for whatever reason we ended up at 13 but the fact that the Yankees took us made it all worthwhile.”

The disappointment of being drafted late lingered but a heavy blood stream of desire and motivation has filled his heart to prove the nay-sayers wrong that he was worthy of a better selection.

Julio knows that is going to happen and has already had that conversation with his son and “you better believe it’s going to happen.”

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