Jul 13, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; USA pitcher Daniel Norris throws a pitch in the second inning during the All Star Futures Game at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

First-half prospect report: the emergence of Daniel Norris

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For as long as I can remember Aaron Sanchez has been dubbed the number one prospect in the Jays farm system and for good reason. Sanchez is the final prong of the former minor league triumvirate which featured other top prospects Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard, but has yet to dominate during his minor league career which leaves this writer to suggest that his number one prospect status may have been stolen.

Enter Daniel Norris.

Year Age Tm Lev Aff W L ERA IP H ER HR BB WHIP H9 BB9 SO9
2012 19 2 Teams Rk-A- TOR 2 4 8.44 42.2 58 40 4 18 1.781 12.2 3.8 9.1
2012 19 Bluefield Rk TOR 2 3 7.97 35.0 44 31 4 13 1.629 11.3 3.3 9.8
2012 19 Vancouver A- TOR 0 1 10.57 7.2 14 9 0 5 2.478 16.4 5.9 5.9
2013 20 2 Teams A-A+ TOR 2 7 3.97 90.2 85 40 6 46 1.445 8.4 4.6 9.9
2013 20 Lansing A TOR 1 7 4.20 85.2 84 40 6 44 1.494 8.8 4.6 10.4
2013 20 Dunedin A+ TOR 1 0 0.00 5.0 1 0 0 2 0.600 1.8 3.6 1.8
2014 21 2 Teams A+-AA TOR 7 0 1.84 83.1 63 17 3 26 1.068 6.8 2.8 10.9
2014 21 Dunedin A+ TOR 6 0 1.22 66.1 50 9 0 18 1.025 6.8 2.4 10.3
2014 21 New Hampshire AA TOR 1 0 4.24 17.0 13 8 3 8 1.235 6.9 4.2 13.2
3 Seasons 11 11 4.03 216.2 206 97 13 90 1.366 8.6 3.7 10.1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/16/2014.

Norris is becoming one of the top prospects in baseball after a shaky start to say the least. Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft, Norris signed, declining the option to attend Clemson and headed to Bluefield. There, Norris said he understood he would have to hone in on his unorthodox delivery to become the effective pitcher that some top scouts projected him to be. But this transformation didn’t happen overnight.

Initially, he struggled. In Bluefield, he posted a horrid 7.97 ERA and the script unfortunately didn’t change when he was promoted to the Vancouver Canadians later that season. He finished 2012 with Vancouver posting a disheartening 10.57 ERA with an even uglier BB/9 which sat at 5.87.

After a horrendous April to begin the 2013 season something clicked for Norris and he went on an all-out tear. From his May 13th start until the end of August, his ERA was a jaw-dropping 2.12 with an even more impressive WHIP of 1.26. Naturally, he was promoted to High-A Dunedin for a start and continued his dominance, pitching five scoreless innings to drop his 2013 ERA to 3.97.

Fast forward to Jan. 22, 2014 when Norris arrived at Blue Jays spring training camp in his vintage 1978 Volkswagen Westfalia microbus, hungry to make the next step to the big leagues.  Since then, he has done nothing less.

He began the 2014 campaign as the 6th ranked prospect in the Jays farm system according to Baseball America and was sent to Dunedin to pick up where he left off. In 66.1 innings at Dunedin, the 6′ 2″ lefty was lethal posting a 1.22 ERA parlayed with a 6-0 record. What really manifests his progression as a prospect however is his command shown by his career low BB/9 (2.4) with a maintained strike out rate per nine innings (10.3).

For this, he was promoted to Double-A New Hampshire on June 17th.  In four starts, Norris has posted an inflated ERA of 4.24 along with an unimpressive BB/9 of 4.2, yet a remarkable SO/9 of 13.2. The reason for these deceitful numbers is that he’s only logged 17.0 innings with the Fisher Cats and has yet to make the full adjustment to Double-A.

During his second start in Portland, Norris discovered that he was selected to pitch at the Futures Game in Minneapolis. There he extinguished any naysayers voices who thought he couldn’t handle top-tier prospect hitters by throwing an inning of relief and impressively needing only 11 pitches to do so.

This story is the vital part of what makes Norris the number one prospect of the Toronto Blue Jays. While his success story is still young, it’s blossoming and stabilizing into a lot more than the seemingly never ending roller-coaster ride that is Aaron Sanchez’s minor league career.

Sanchez has struggled with his control throughout his pro-career posting a 4.9 BB/9, notably higher than Norris’ 3.7. While most would agree Sanchez has a higher ceiling, leading him to hold the number one prospect status for so long, Norris’ ceiling appears to be more attainable and realistic.

His command used to be his Achilles heel but has since been revived. He now commands a fastball which comfortably sits between 93-94 with the ability to touch 95, a wipe-out curveball, a change-up and a slider which have the potential to become plus pitches in his arsenal.

Although Norris is still a tier below Sanchez who is in Triple- A Buffalo, Norris, in my books, earns the token of being the number one prospect because of what he has done thus far in this season and essentially in the one full season since May 2013.

Look for Norris to become the number two in the not-so distant future of the Toronto Blue Jays rotation: I know I sure will.

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  • Justin Jay

    A couple of things that do concern me, but solely based off numbers. The 3 HRs in 17 IPs and the 4.2 BB/9 and he’s averaging mostly 4 IPs per start. I want to see him go later into game 1st before calling him #1. The Jays must have him on an innings or pitch count limit. So before I’d call him #1, I’d have to see him handle some adversity.

    The PROs however, are that he’s got a smooth delivery, his curveball looks to be on par with Sanchez’s, and his change has late breaking action that acts similarly to Romero’s circle change (back when he could control it).

    The delivery is the biggest difference between Norris and Sanchez. Norris is fluid and looks fairly consistent. You can’t say that about Sanchez. Sanchez’s biggest problem has been and still is throwing to the left side of the plate. He can’t consistently throw the same arm slot and often opens up to throw to the left side. It’s not exactly an easy fix either. So even though Sanchez’s 96-97 MPH FB is one of most fun to watch in baseball, the fact that Norris can command his 94-95 MPH FB as well as his curve shows he’s advanced ahead of Sanchez.

    They’ll most likely be interchangeable on Top 10s either in the midseason adjustments or at the beginning of next season. If Norris gets to AAA this season, I’d expect to see him before Sanchez right now. All depends on the innings limit.

    • brad

      I can’t find anywhere that tells me how many pitches he’s throwing per start but there definitely seems to be an innings/pitch limit.

      If it eases your concerns a bit, 4 of his 8 AA runs and 2 of his 3 AA HRs came in his first ever AA start….. I think he needs another month before we take his AA numbers seriously. He has to stop walking guys though. It’s strange that a guy with control like his(when he hits his spots he really hits them) walks so many. I think he has a tendency to go strikeout hunting and pitches himself out of good counts when guys don’t fish.

      • Charlie Caskey

        He’s on about 80 pitch count right now. He struggles to finish hitters early and pumps up (unnecessarily so) his pitch count a bit. Think that is the only issue Jays org. have with him right now.

        The 2nd home run he gave up during his opening AA start was a wind-aided paint scraper. The quote from someone watching was that it wouldn’t have left Yankee Stadium. I wouldn’t be worried about the HR/9 numbers

      • Justin Jay

        That seems to be the case for many high strike out pitchers. The terminology is “gets cute with his pitches after 2 strikes.” After reading interviews on him, really laid back dude, but nothing really cute about his demeanor. He’s straightforward. The control “issues” were actually pretty bad until mid-last season when it seemed to all click. I tihnk you’re right about letting him get some time under him. It’s a small sample size, much like Stroman at the MLB level.

    • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

      I just really like how heavy Sanchez’ fastball is… batters have an extremely difficult time squaring him up and he rarely allows hard contact. I feel like his command doesn’t have to be great for him to eventually succeed at the major league level. Norris though… man, lefty throwing mid-90′s heat with 3 solid off-speed offerings… hard not to like that.

      • Justin Jay

        Me too, but that arm slot man. He can’t find it. It’s unfortunate he can’t harness the talent in that arm.

    • Mike

      there is nothing that concerns me regarding a young pitcher making the vast improvements Norris is making – none
      the Jays are taking it slow though and obviously keeping innings down