Up to this year, the prospect conversation was all Aaron Sanchez this and Marcus Stroman that. The thought of Daniel Norris wasn’t at the fore of Blue Jays fanatics and few gave the surfing enthusiast the chance to make it to the big leagues let alone in 2014. Like Kendall Graveman, 2014 was a season where Norris, the organization’s former fourth ranked prospect, skyrocketed through the minor league system landing in the great white north, or more accurately, Boston Massachusetts in one of baseball’s most historic parks facing one of baseball’s most intimidating hitters.
What you see, or remember, below was quite simply awesome and even incited laughter from manager John Gibbons, a tall task from a rookie to say the least.
With that bender cemented in your mind, here’s the year that was for former prospect and recent Toronto Blue Jay, Daniel Norris.
Similar to his colleague Graveman, 2014 was an exceptional year in that he started the season in High-A Dunedin and worked his way through the minor leagues and onto the major league scene. It was in Dunedin that something clicked. A more repeatable and deceptive delivery replaced the unorthodox delivery that had plagued him in years past. Suddenly his 4+ BB/9 was a thing of the past and Norris discovered the art of the strikeout averaging 11.8 K/9 in A+/AA/AAA, up from 9.9 in 2013. To further demonstrate his improved command look at his SO/W ratio per Baseball Reference. In 2013 the ratio sat at a mere 2.17 but this season saw the number climb to 3.79.
This improvement triggered his final promotion as a September call-up where he pitched 6.2 innings in a Jays uniform to the tune of a 5.40 ERA with a disappointing 6.45 BB/9. So while Norris drastically improved his command from that in years past, his major league promotion points to the fact that his development process has yet to be completed.
Although Norris’ 2014 should be regarded as a promising sign for the future of the young pitcher, it should be noted that it be taken with a grain of salt. Daniel Norris’ success is undeniably breathtaking, but it’s still quite raw. As Jays fans saw in September, Norris still needs to hone in on his command in a league where hitters are increasingly watching more pitches during at-bats. In his short stint as a Blue Jay, Norris’ command suffered as his BB/9 surged to a disgusting 6.75. But, it’s certainly a small sample.
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The other improvement Norris needs to make is on his secondary pitches. While he has demonstrated he can throw his fastball in the mid-90s with good life, he needs to develop consistency within his breaking pitches to make his fastball all the more deadly. Currently Norris utilizes a slider, curveball and changeup in his repertoire, all of which have swing and miss potential in the major leagues. The trouble is locating them for strikes against hitters who may simply just lay off. For example, in his tour of duty with the Jays, Norris threw his off-speed pitches for strikes 53 per cent of the time.
It should be noted that Norris only recently learned to throw his slider and changeup so the command is expected to be in need of improvement, however, if Norris wants to regain the strikeout ratio of his minor league days, he’s going to have to hone in on his command and force major league hitters to offer at his jaw-dropping, back-breaking stuff.
It’s uncertain where Norris will be in 2015. There are so many moving parts to this organization, it’s tough to cement anyone into any role especially after the season Toronto just had.
The rotation is probably to be filled with the likes of R.A Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman, leaving J.A Happ and Aaron Sanchez to battle it out for the final spot barring any off-season transaction general manager Alex Anthopoulos makes.
So really it’s hard to envision a scenario where Norris starts with the club in 2015 unless he does so from the bullpen. If that’s the case, it would be much more beneficial for the lefty to be sent back down to Triple-A Buffalo. There he can get his innings in and continue his 2014 streak of dominance that saw him post a 12-2 record with a 2.53 ERA.
It’s likely that’s where Norris will end up starting. However, in the off-season’s darkest hour, Anthopoulos holds his cards tight to his chest. It looks like we’re going to have to wait for the river on this one.