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Daniel Norris Taking the Fish to Fisher Cats?

With only one more sleep until the Vancouver Canadians kick off their fourth straight Northwest League championship season the rest of the Blue Jays affiliates are keeping themselves busy, and in the news, with a flurry of roster moves.  The most exciting being the promotion of Toronto’s consensus number one prospect and all-round stud Aaron Sanchez.  It’s an interesting move and I’d love to have been a fly on the wall as far as the decision making process was concerned.  Was it a decision a long time coming?  Or had the Jays seen enough from Sanchez’ last three starts (which were all apparently excellent) to pull the trigger on the promotion.

For those that have read this blog from day one, you’ll know that I have a long-standing obsession with current Dunedin Blue Jay and former Vancouver Canadian Daniel Norris.  So while I’m thrilled that Sanchez will be pitching for Buffalo on Saturday (as an aside, as it stands right now, the Fisher Cats do not have a single prospect worth checking the boxscore for) my immediate thoughts turned to who could replace Aaron in New Hampshire.

And you guessed it, I came up with Daniel Norris.  He has absolutely dominated the Florida State League thus far, culminating in his Pipeline Pitching Prospect Award for May.

Age AgeDif ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
21 -2.2 1.32 12 61.1 49 11 9 0 16 73 1.060 7.2 0.0 2.3 10.7 4.56
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/12/2014.

For me, the most impressive stat above is the walks per nine which, at 2.6, is exactly half what he put up in Lansing last year, his first foray into full-season ball.  He’s been able to reduce his walks while increasing his K/9 ratio (albeit, only by a hair) while jumping up a league.  A sign that his earlier mechanical issues are a thing of the past while his stuff definitely still plays.

New pitching coach Jeff Ware (image courtesy of Charlie Caskey)

New pitching coach Jeff Ware (image courtesy of Charlie Caskey)

If you listened to the first edition of the YourVanCs podcast, New Hampshire’s pitching coach Jim Czajkowski talked about Norris’ last remaining issue being the ability to manage his pitch count.  I discussed this a bit with new C’s pitching coach Jeff Ware (audio will be on next podcast) who agreed with Jim.  Basically saying that when he eventually (i.e. very soon) moves to double-A he won’t necessarily be able to get ahead with curveballs in the dirt.  His stuff is that good, he can trick hitters in the Florida State League.  That won’t be the same in the Eastern League where hitters are far more polished/professional.  If Norris wants to use his allotted pitch counts to get deeper into games, i.e. the sixth or seventh inning, he’ll need to be able to establish his fastball early and often.

Back in September I took umbrage to Marc Hulet’s (of fangraphs.com) assertion that Daniel Norris was a ‘tumbler’ of a prospect in Toronto’s system.  The money quote then and, based on the paragraph above, now, is still

‘He flashed his considerable talent with a second-half surge but he still has a long way to go to harness his stuff well enough to succeed against more advanced hitters in the upper levels of the minors.’

Talking to both Jim and Jeff, I get the impression that they both aren’t so certain.  Czajkowski highlighted over and over that the jump from A+ to AA is easily the biggest in the minor leagues.  And if we wanted to get picky, through his first five starts in Dunedin, Matt Boyd‘s numbers were even better, as ridiculous as that sounds, than Norris’.

We all know what happened from there.  Boyd got knocked around a bit in his six New Hampshire starts before being returned to Dunedin.  Now, I don’t believe it’s a like for like comparison, despite both being lefties, as I feel Norris stuff, especially his fastball, is flat out better than Boyds.

But it does serve as a cautionary tale.  Daniel’s success at double-A is not guaranteed.

Won’t stop me from being excited though.  Let me clarify, I’m only speculating that Norris will be promoted.  A certain New Hampshire pitching coach is refusing to answer my texts begging for information.  Despite the lack of confirmation I think this is a pretty easy call.

As it stands, Dunedin’s magic number to clinch the first half playoff berth is one and with two chances to do it today (with Boyd and Norris pitching) I think it’s a done deal.  New Hampshire are currently down two starters (along with Sanchez’ promotion Shawn Hill was traded to the White Sox) it only stands to reason the Jays will challenge Norris.

For fun, in my ‘Tumbler’ article, I compared both Norris’ and Sanchez’ numbers from their respective seasons in Lansing.  Let’s do it again for Sanchez’ Florida State League stats (through 12 starts since that’s what Norris has had):

Age AgeDif ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
20 -3.1 2.73 12 52.2 30 18 16 2 20 47 0.958 5.2 0.3 3.45 8.1 2.35

 

Sanchez wins in the age category being a year younger at that level but think fact he also has an extra year of pro experience (Norris signed late) more than makes up for that.  Norris has given up more hits (albeit with no home runs) but far fewer walks and a superior strike out rate.

Again, it’s not comparing apples to apples, but wow, when you look at Norris’ numbers compared with the Jays number one prospect, you have to be pretty bloody excited.

(almost forgot, the ‘Fish’ reference in the title is related to this)

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