Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Two Prospects, Two Different Paths of Development

   Righthander Tyler Beede, out of Lawrence Academy HS in Massachusetts, and Lefthander Daniel Norris, a product of Science Hill HS in Johnson City, Tennessee, were drafted 1-2 by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2011 draft, Beede in the first round with the 21st pick, and Norris at #74 in the second round.  Both were among the highest-ranked prep pitchers heading into the draft.
   Having attended summer baseball camps at Vanderbilt University since he was a freshman in High School, Beede was adamant that he preferred to go the collegiate route.  His bonus asking price was said to be in the $3.5 million range.  Norris himself had committed to Clemson University.  Beede had sent a letter to all major league teams prior to the draft stating that his intention was to attend Vandy.  Norris, for his part, saw his draft stock fall because he similarly was seen as bound for college.  The Blue Jays took a gamble and selected them both.
   As the mid-August (now mid-July) deadline for signing approached, Beede stuck to his demands.  It's rumoured that the Blue Jays and Beede wound up about $1 million apart.  15 minutes before the deadline, Norris signed for $2 million, while Beede spurned the Jays' final offer in favour of Vanderbilt.  The signing of Norris took some of the sting out of the failure to reach an agreement with Beede, who now won't be draft-eligible until 2014.
   So, Beede headed off to college in August, and Norris, who signed too late to see action in 2011, had to wait until the spring before starting his pro career.
   It's interesting to see where both are in terms of their development now.  Pitching in the strong SEC, Beede, who struggled early in his first collegiate season, began to come into his own come regionals time, and made the regional all-tournament team.  In his freshman campaign, Beede compiled a 1-5 record, with a 4.52 ERA.  In 71.2 innings, he gave up 78 hits, walked 36, and struck out 68.  Command was a bit of an issue, and batters hit .287 against him. Beede appeared in 16 games, starting 5 of them.
  Flash forward a season, and as Beede enters the final weeks of his 2013 sophomore campaign, he has become a solid part of Vandy's starting rotation. Beede is a perfect 10-0 on the season, becoming only the 9th pitcher to reach that plateau in school history.  In 65.2 innings,  he has given up 36 hits, with walks still a bit of an issue (38), and 67 K's.  Hitters are batting a paltry .164 against Beede this season.
   Norris remained  in Florida for 2012 extended spring training, reporting to Bluefield of the Short-Season Rookie Appalachian League in June. His first season, like Beede's, was one of ups and downs. Norris posted a 2-3 record in 11 appearances (10 starts) with Bluefield, posting a 7.97 ERA.  Still, Norris showed enough promise to warrant a late promotion to Short Season Vancouver.  Some scouts feel that Norris' inflated ERA was due to a couple of big innings, which came about as a result of his inability to get ahead in the count.
  Norris was promoted to Low A Lansing of the Midwestern League this season, and while it's early, the results again are mixed.  Norris can breeze through one inning, then struggle the next.  Thus far at Lansing, he's 0-1, with an unsightly 12.00 ERA over 12 innings.
   So, who's ahead on the development curve ? At the moment, the answer is clearly Beede, but having gone the college route, he's thrown 137 innings to Norris' 54 over the past two seasons, so perhaps the comparison isn't completely accurate.  And while Norris' mechanics and delivery were changed, (as is the case with many high school draftees) in extended spring training last year, Beede has been left pretty much to continue to pitch with the delivery he used in high school.  This could lead to bad habits, command issues, and even injuries down the road. Then there's the question of pitch count and the protection of young arms at the collegiate level, where the emphasis is not necessarily on development.
    As a result, the jury is still out on who is ahead in real terms of development.  The Blue Jays hope by August that Norris has at least pulled even.
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