Name: Daniel Norris
Position: Left-handed pitcher
Date of Birth: 04/25/1993 (Age 20)
Acquired: Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft; $2 MM signing bonus
Born: Johnson City, TN
High School: Science Hill HS
College: None (Clemson commitment)
Height/Weight: 6’2″/180 lbs
Awards and Accomplishments:
- #3 ranked Blue Jays prospect for 2013 MLB.com
- #4 ranked Blue Jays prospect for 2014 Fangraphs, Minor League Ball, Baseball Prospectus
- #5 ranked Blue Jays prospect for 2014 Grading on the Curve
- #6 ranked Blue Jays prospect for 2014 Baseball America, Prospect 361°
- #7 ranked Blue Jays prospect for 2013 Jays Journal
Norris has had a bumpy professional career thus far but things are definitely looking up. Norris was considered to be one of the top high-school left-handed pitchers in the 2011 draft and fell to the second round mainly due to his strong commitment at the time to Clemson University. The Blue Jays gave Norris two million reasons to turn pro and (because this was when the signing deadline was in August), he didn’t make his professional debut until the following season.
Despite his power arm and diverse arsenal, Norris had a lot of trouble with command and control in his first season, resulting in some ugly numbers on the surface. His 7.97 ERA in Bluefield and 10.57 ERA in Vancouver masked some solid work that he was doing with a 9.07 K/9 (combined for both levels) and a 3.81 FIP (combined).
Some Blue Jays fans were throwing around the “B-word” (Bust) in regards to Norris after his 2012 season but the young pitcher didn’t let it get to him and started the 2013 season in full-season Class-A Lansing. Those voices were getting even louder after Norris got out to an 0-2 start in April in five appearances. His 9.37 ERA and 2.02 WHIP for that month didn’t help his cause but the word was coming down that pitching coach Vince Horsman had begun to simplify things for Norris, adjusting his mechanics and having him work almost exclusively on fastball command.
After a May 8th start during which he gave up six runs in just one and a third innings, Norris seemed to find the answer and began to tear things up the rest of the year. Despite a minor injury that had him miss a few weeks at the end of June, from May 13 until the end of August, Norris posted a 2.12 ERA, a 1.26 WHIP and struck out 83 batters in 63 2/3 innings with just 30 walks. While Norris struggled with his command, walking four in the start that I saw him throw (August 9), he only gave up two hits and struck out six in the four innings he pitched.
Norris’s August was particularly dominant, throwing 29 innings (including a five-inning start in High-A Dunedin) and allowing only two runs to score on 15 hits and nine walks while striking out 30. He also showed off his reflexes, saving his own head from a line drive that threatened to separate it from his body.
From the scouting video that I’ve posted above here (from March 2013), you can see that Norris features some very positive mechanical features. The first thing that you might notice is his extremely quick and loose arm that throws from a high, three-quarters arm slot. He also strides a little bit towards first base which makes him throw across his body. It’s not necessarily a red flag for injury or control issues and it helps him hide the ball from hitters. He has also cut down on the amount that he lands towards first base, allowing him to line up a little better with home plate.
While I can’t upload it here, I took some video of Norris when I saw him pitch on August 9 and there is an important difference that I noticed: in August, Norris was keeping his eyes on the target the whole time through his windup while he was losing that line of sight in the spring training video. The one downside to his delivery that isn’t apparent in the video above is that he sometimes falls off violently towards third base on his deliveries. It’s not consistent although he is able to throw strikes when he’s whipping his left foot around his body after releasing the ball.
When it comes to his stuff, it’s hard to dislike anything that Norris is doing. He throws a fastball that sits in the 93-94 mph range comfortably to go along with an 85-86 mph changeup, an 83-mph slider and a 75-mph curveball. In the start that I saw, Norris had the slider and changeup really working well while the curveball was more inconsistent. When it’s on, the curve is a devastating pitch with sharp, 12-6 movement and his slider is also considered to have plus potential. The biggest surprise for me was his changeup and how good it was. When he buried it, it generated a lot of swings and misses.
Norris’s biggest issue is his command and control and in the start that I saw, he lost his focus in the third inning but, to his credit, recovered in the fourth. When he was hitting his spots, Norris was practically unhittable. Norris has at least three pitches that are major league average now and, when he can command them better, will be better than average.
Risk, Outlook and ETA
Norris’s risk is probably medium-low. He’s already performed in full-season ball and has make several big improvements that are starting to translate into more success. Having seen him live, I’m a big believer in what he can do and in the fact that he’s turning things around to become much more consistent mechanically. His stuff is as good as anyone’s in the organization aside from maybe Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman. In fact, I look at him as being similar to Sean Nolin but with more upside due to his better velocity and better stuff overall.
I see Norris starting the season in Dunedin but ending up in New Hampshire. He could wind up in Toronto as early as late 2015, especially if he has a big season in 2014. We’ll see how better hitters deal with his stuff but from what I saw, I think his biggest enemy, at least until Double-A, will be himself. I think he’s really turned a corner and if he can stay in control on the mound, he’s going to be having a breakout year, at least statistically. Norris isn’t talked about a lot with most of Blue Jays’ fans attentions focused on Strochez (Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez) but he’s going to be moving his way into their consciousness very quickly this season.