Emilio Pagan is having a big year.
The 27-year-old reliever pitched in the World Baseball Classic, made his major league debut with the Seattle Mariners and continues to have a stellar season with the Tacoma Rainiers.
But those events pale in comparison with what happened on June 14 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Pagan’s wife, Jordyn, gave birth to their first child, a daughter: Paxtyn.
“It’s been awesome,” said Pagan, adding he spends a lot of down time on FaceTime catching up with his daughter’s latest developments.
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“Being able to be home for when my daughter was born was awesome. The whole process has been awesome. There’s really not enough words to say how happy of a feeling it is to be a dad, and in time for Father’s Day and everything. I’m just excited to see her again.”
Paxtyn’s arrival came three days after pitched four scoreless innings against the Toronto Blue Jays. Pagan was so effective he earned a trip back to Tacoma because the Mariners needed a reliever who had not thrown 44 pitches and would need a few days off to recover.
The outing in his second callup with the Mariners continued what he had done in his first. On May 23 against the Washington Nationals, Pagan threw four scoreless innings, which promptly earned him a trip back to Triple-A.
Pagan’s development hints he might be ready for a longer stay in the majors in short time. He’s added zip to his fastball – he’s been clocked as fast as 97 miles per hour – and has been nearly perfect in his past 12 2/3 innings for the Rainiers entering Friday’s game, striking out 14 while giving up no runs on five hits.
Rainiers manager Pat Listach is not surprised.
“Since I’ve known him, he’s always thought he was a big-league pitcher,” Listach said. “This year it finally came to fruition, and he knows it. He already knew he was.”
Pagan said his confidence comes from his parents, who told him anything was attainable if he put his mind to it, worked hard and trusted those around him. And while he felt he was major-league ready, his first two outings hinted otherwise.
In his debut on May 3 against the Los Angeles Angels, Pagan got one out while throwing 16 pitches before being removed. He surrendered three runs on three hits.
Two days later, he was called into an extra-innings game in Texas against the Rangers. He got through two innings before stumbling in the 13th when he walked Delino DeShields and then gave up a game-winning home run to Rougned Odor.
He bounced back from those outings. Pagan hasn’t conceded a run in eight major-league innings since. He’s struck out nine and allowed only two base runners.
“He’s throwing the ball a little harder this year. His command has been better,” Listach said. “His command has been better in the big leagues than it’s been down here. I think he got a taste of it.”
Back in college, Pagan – drafted in the 10th round out of Belmont Abbey, a small Catholic private school near Charlotte – wasn’t sure if he was better at hitting homers instead of avoiding them.
After playing his freshman and sophomore seasons at Gardner-Webb, Pagan wanted a change of scenery. The coaching staff at Gardner-Webb allowed him to only pitch, but he thought he was capable of being a position player, as well.
At that time, Pagan’s fastball hovered in the high-80s, with an occasional pitch reaching 90 mph.
“You look in the big leagues, that’s not gonna cut it,” he said. “Unless you have elite, elite command, and at that time I didn’t. So I thought maybe my best shot was as a position player.”
Belmont Abbey allowed Pagan to play third base and come out of the bullpen, so that’s where he went.
In his first year there, he started all 51 games at third and finished top three on his team in hits, stolen bases and RBI. He was even more impressive on the mound, keeping his opponents scoreless in 19 2/3 innings, earning a save in 13 of his 18 appearances.
The Mariners like Pagan’s potential on the mound, and that’s where he’s been since starting his pro career. The advancement has been steady – from rookie league in 2013 to finally Triple-A last season, where he threw 34 1/3 effective innings (1-2, 3.67 ERA).
That showed Listach that Pagan might have a future in the majors.
“You pitched really good here,” Listach recalled telling Pagan last season. “The way you’re pitching now, you’re pitching like a big-leaguer.”
“I believe I am a big-leaguer,” Pagan said.
“It was evident back then,” Listach said. “ … He’s got a lot of good things going for him.”