Reintroducing Daniel Norris by Owen Watson March 23, 2015 Most people know Daniel Norris as the bearded guy who lives out of his VW van. Despite the fact that he prefers the coast instead of down by the river, it’s still a pretty unique background, and that’s not all: Norris also happens to throw baseballs, and do it exceptionally well. Those two descriptions don’t find a confluence often, so the media attention is not unexpected, but it’s also not unwarranted: as one of the Blue Jays’ top prospects by projected WAR for 2015, Norris has expectations — the sort of expectations and hopes organizations put on promising young left-handed pitchers. In truth, we might not even be talking about Daniel Norris this soon if it weren’t for another young Blue Jays phenom, Marcus Stroman, who will miss all of 2015 with a torn ACL. Stroman’s injury left a huge whole in the rotation, and with everyone moving up one rung on the ladder, the final spot was left up for grabs. Marco Estrada and Norris have been seen as the favorites during the spring up until this point, but it now sounds like the job is all but locked up for the young lefty. Because of that recent news, and because of his great prospect status, he warrants a closer look from us. Norris was a second-round pick in 2011 who made a mechanical adjustment in the middle of 2013 that saw him increase his delivery consistency and start to make serious strides. He’s been a perennial member of Baseball America’s top 100 prospects, and he has ranked in the top 10 of Toronto’s system ever since he was drafted. He rose through all levels of the minors last year with great numbers, going from A ball to AA, AAA, and finally Toronto. As Carson pointed out, he had the highest strikeout-and-walk differential of any qualified minor league starter who pitched above High-A, a good predictor of future run prevention. We only got a very brief glimpse of him as a September call-up, when he pitched 6.2 innings in relief, and what we saw in that tiny sample size was about what you’d expect: very up and down (with obvious nerves), but flashes of the raw stuff that’s there. Here is the small sample that made up his 2014 work for Toronto: Season IP K/9 BB/9 GB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR 2014 6.2 5.4 6.75 35.0% 11.1% 5.40 6.13 5.85 -0.1 Let’s take a look at his repertoire, so we can familiarize ourselves with what we might be getting out of Toronto’s fifth spot to start the year. Fastball Norris’ four-seam fastball usually sits in the low-90s, but he can crank it up to around 94 when the situation calls for it; he also rarely throws a sinker. From a couple quick calculations, his four-seamer sits just under the 90th-percentile for vertical rise for all pitchers last year, though take that for what it’s worth, given the sample size. However, that fact should give us some idea that there’s some life on it: there’s little doubt of its effectiveness should he learn to spot it effectively. More about that command later, but here’s the four-seam first: Changeup The change is one of two off-speed pitches that can flash plus for Norris, and it is his go-to. It comes in around the low to mid-80’s, and he seems to have comfort throwing the pitch in all counts and situations. The pitch has good depth and will yield a lot of ground balls because of its late break and deception. It is, and will be, his main weapon against right-handed hitters, as we see here: Slider The slider is the other off-speed offering that can flash plus, and is the out-pitch companion to the changeup, but for left-handed hitters. It has a little two-plane movement, sits in the low-80’s, and looks like it will generate a good number of whiffs from left-handers. To my eyes, it’s a harder, more effective version of his curveball. Illustration: Curveball I didn’t set this one up very well. From 2014, the curve looks like a work in progress, with good bite and movement but little deception. It’s loopy and slow (low-70’s), and because of that, hitters will lay off unless he can throw it for strikes – which was an issue with all of his pitches, but especially this one. Take a look: Now, to put everything together, let’s look at the movement profile of all of his offerings, courtesy of Brooks Baseball. We can see the nice vertical movement on the curveball, showing its room for development: We have Norris projected for over 100 innings and just under 1 WAR this year in a hybrid starting/relief role, and he will obviously meet (and possibly surpass) that if he can hold the final spot in the rotation for an extended period of time. That will require improving his control and command, especially for the fastball, and will largely depend on how effective his changeup proves to be against major league right-handed hitters. Here’s what we have on our depth charts for his 2015 projections: Season IP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR 2015 139 9.18 4.01 4.29 0.8 We know the strikeout ability is there, and the question of control is the big one. Whether the 2014 wildness was due to nerves is a good question — from his body language on the mound, I’d say yes, given his walk rate numbers in the minor leagues. The slider looks like a good out pitch against lefties in our limited sample, and the curve needs work, but his repertoire even now looks like that of a back end starter. Really, that’s not bad for a 21-year-old who was in A ball last year. There’s no good news when your #1 starter goes down with a season-ending injury. Toronto is still left to wonder what to do about the front end of their rotation (on a related note, Norris was actually the subject of trade rumors last year for a top starter), but guys like Daniel Norris are the ones that can pick up slack on the back end and perhaps surprise you. Maybe it’s a little sooner than expected to be talking about him making an impact, but another Toronto pitching prospect is here, and that’s exciting. Pitching is probably not as exciting as surfing, but it has to be close, and I guess everyone has to work for a living.