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.
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.