Daniel Norris is everywhere these days, so it seems. Last year, the first articles came out about his living a bit of a vagabond off season life, in his Westfalia Van Shaggy, came to light.
This year, as spring training approached, Norris loaded up Shaggy, and left his home in Tennessee bound for Florida and Spring Training, with some surfing stops along the way. The media picked up on this even more.
As someone who has followed Norris closely since his sophomore pro season, it's been rewarding to see how he has risen the minor league ladder, but remained humble and close to his roots. Faced with adversity in his first pro season and the first month of his second, respected publications like Baseball America were wondering how someone with such lights-out stuff could be hit so hard. Norris grit his teeth, dug in, and worked his way through that difficult time, and he and his family deserve all the credit in the world for that.
As a sidenote, it seems that Norris is maybe learning his first lesson about dealing with the media, He granted ESPN access to his travels this winter, and now the mainstream media has picked it up, and Norris is tiring of it, as he told reporters after his spring debut against the Orioles:
“Not a huge fan of it. It’s kind of weird,” Norris said. “I understand at this point in time that it’s inevitable. It’s happened and it’s there, but I’d rather tuck away a little bit. Just play ball.”Personally, I think Norris is refreshing. He could have gone for all the trappings that other young men who find themselves gifted with a $2 million signing bonus do, but all he appears to have purchased is the van and a surfboard. I don't find his lifestyle all that unusual - as someone who loves the outdoors and tries to spend as much time as possible on outdoor adventures, I can appreciate the simpler life he's trying to lead. When he was playing rookie ball for Bluefield, in the heart of the Appalachians, Norris led a group of young teammates (many of whom had never been in the wilderness before) on a hike in a nearby State Forest. Norris is always looking for adventure, and whatever comes his way.
Norris' debut against the O's was scintillating. With Baltimore fielding pretty much their opening day lineup, Norris more than held his own, striking out Delmon Young on a lovely curve, and freezing Chris Davis with an outside fastball for a called third strike. If there's a caveat in there, it's that he reached his pitch count fairly quickly, and threw 36 pitches in an inning and two thirds. And that's the only thing that we would suggest Norris has to work on - maximizing those pitches, and working deeper into games.
Norris is in a battle for the 5th spot in the starting rotation, but you can't count on a major contribution from his just yet. If the accepted rule of thumb is that a pitcher should throw no more than 30 innings more than he did the previous year (it's a guideline only; pitch counts are the better measure), Norris can't be counted on for more than about 160 innings this year. To have him go beyond that increases the risk of injury.
And while we're at it, let's not forget that Norris has had elbow issues in both of the past two seasons. He was shut down for a month in 2013 with elbow soreness, and then had bone chips removed at the end of 2014. He won't be 22 until April, so he's still in the prime age range for elbow and shoulder injuries (the frequency starts to decrease between 23 and 25). The bubble wrap will come off of him a little more this year, but before we get excited and pencil him in the rotation and set him up as a Rookie of the Year candidate, let's remember that.
Just the same, it's an exciting time, and kudos to the Blue Jays and their scouting staff, who were not scared off by Norris' Clemson commitment in 2011, and stood by him during his first season in 2012 after they had overhauled his mechanics.
Roberto Osuna, another haul from the IFA ranks in 2011, made his spring debut last night as well, and pitched an impressive inning long after all but us prospect diehards had turned the game off. Osuna still has that wrist wrap at the back of his delivery that the Blue Jays were reportedly trying to eliminate, because it may be limiting the movement of his fastball. He had the premium velocity at 95, but showed more command than he did late last year and fall after coming back from Tommy John surgery. He also showed that advanced feel for pitching that we've all heard about, striking out leadoff hitter Trey Mancini in the with a nasty backdoor change up.
In his own way, Osuna's appearance was just as impressive as Norris' was. It was a great night to be a Blue Jays fan, even though they lost the game, and fans on Twitter were already pronouncing Devon Travis, off to an 0-6 start, not ready for prime time. Patience, people......