Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Two Prospects, Two Different Paths of Development #4

Perfect Game photo

   I've written three previous articles since the spring of 2013 looking at the progress of a pair of pitching prospects selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2011 draft, righthander Tyler Beede, and lefthander Daniel Norris.

   Beede, a product of Auburn, Massachusetts, was selected with the 21st overall pick by the Blue Jays.  He had written major league teams that spring to let them know his intention was to attend Vanderbilt University, and likely would have gone higher in the draft had he not done so. Whether or not that was a bargaining ploy or a legitimate desire to play college ball remains unknown, but what is known is that Beede and the Blue Jays were reportedly a million dollars apart in their negotations, the Blue Jays reportedly offering $2.4 million.  Contract talks went right down to the wire on the then-August 15th deadline, but Beede spurned Toronto's final offer, and prepared to head off to start his collegiate career.
    Norris, from Johnson City, Tennessee, was, like Beede, one of the top ranked prep pitchers in the draft.  He fell to the second round because many teams were wary of his commitment to Clemson. The Blue Jays chose Norris with the 74th pick, and his negotiations went down to the wire as well, but he ultimately signed fifteen minutes from the deadline (likely with some savings realized by Beede's refusal), and signed for a $2 million bonus.

   Because he signed so late in the season, Norris' pro debut was put off until 2012.  Beede, meanwhile, headed off to Vandy, and made his college debut in February. There was little comparing of the two after their respective first seasons.  Beede pitched in 16 games for the Commodores, starting 11.  He was rocked in his start and spent some time in the bullpen, but righted himself as the season progressed, Beede pitched well in post season competition, and was named to the All-Tournament team at the Regional level.
   Norris, on the other hand, reported for spring training, and was kept behind with all of the other first year players after camp broke in April.  There had always been concerns about Norris' long and sweeping delivery and his curve ball, and the Blue Jays worked on both over the course of the spring. Sent to short-season Bluefield to begin his pro career that June, Norris understandably struggled, and was hit hard there and after a promotion to Vancouver.  Developmentally, Beede was ahead of Norris at the time, but it was easy to understand why.  The Blue Jays had a significant investment in Norris, and it was in their best interests to make whatever corrections to his approach that they needed. That's not to say that Vandy didn't make similar adjustments with Beede; they likely weren't as significant.

   Fast forward to the spring of 2013, and the developmental gap between the two was widening. Beede was on his way to Second Team All America status as a sophomore by several publications, while in the midst of a rough April with full season Lansing, Baseball America made this observation about Norris:

 The 19-year-old still has plenty of time to turn things around, but it’s hard to explain how a lefty who can touch 96 mph and pairs it with a breaking ball that shows flashes of being a plus pitch can get squared up outing after outing. Norris saw his career ERA jump to 8.87 after giving up 13 baserunners in only four innings over the past week. Even more inexplicably, lefties have posted a 2.300 OPS against Norris in five at-bats.

   As the summer approached, Norris was refining his command.  For Beede, who was named to Team USA, it was the opposite, as he fought his control.  Norris rode a fine second half of the season to remain near the top of most Blue Jays top prospect lists, while Beede, despite his command issues, was shaping up to be a possible top 5 draft pick after his junior year ended the following June.

   From there, many people know the story.  The pair seemed to be heading in opposite directions last year, Norris rising through three levels to get finish the year in the Majors, while Beede's stock slipped, and he was taken 14th overall - ahead of where the Blue Jays selected him, but below where the early predictions had him going.  Selected by the Giants, Beede signed for $2.6 million - more than what the Blue Jays had offered, but about $1.2 million below what the 5th overall pick, Florida HS shortstop Nick Gordon, signed for.  Beede's struggles continued in playoff play, and he didn't get the ball to start Vandy's successful College World Series run.
   While Norris was rocketing through the minors, Beede reported to the Giants minor league complex in Arizona to start his pro career.  The Giants immediately began to change Beede from a control-challenged power to a more efficient, groundball-inducing type of pitcher.  In order to make that transition, they swapped his four seamer early in the count for a sinking two seamer, and a cutter. The change appeared to work as Beede dominated hitters in the Complex and Northwest Leagues.
    And that brings us to the present day, where Norris and his van rode a lights out spring to the 5th starters' job in the Blue Jay rotation, and a start this week against the Yankees.  Beede, meanwhile, has shipped out to full season team in the California League.  Clearly, Norris is ahead of Beede on the curve at the moment.  No one could have predicted Norris' meteoric rise last year, of course, which may have reflected a change in organizational philosophy as much as it did his performance. And while Beede may be behind Norris at the moment, his first pro year went much more smoothly than Norris' did.  Both faced an overhaul of their pitching approaches, but Beede at 21 was obviously more mature and able to handle the change than the at-the-time recent high school grad Norris was.
Norris is clearly ahead financially, even though he ultimately signed for a lesser bonus.  By graduating to the bigs last September, his service time clock has started.  As well has he has pitched so far over his small sample size of a pro career, it's hard to expect Beede to duplicate those results and be in the Giants rotation a year from now.

   Beede has been relatively injury-free during his college career - despite Vandy's success, his innings were carefully monitored.  Norris was on a strict pitch count after turning pro, but was still shut down for a month in 2013 with elbow soreness, and had bone chips removed after last season.  If there's one red flag that gnaws away at the back of my mind about Norris, that's it.

   How did this draft effect the Blue Jays?  There were rumours that they were concerned about medical reports about Beede, and wouldn't budge much from their initial offer, but we'll never likely know the full story.  When Beede turned them down, Toronto turned their attention to Norris, and it's hard to argue with that strategy.  And as compensation, they were able to draft Marcus Stroman the following year, so again, things worked out for them.

   Who has the higher ceiling?   That's still hard to say, but the consensus would probably be Norris right now.  Just as we the comparison between Norris and Beede wasn't valid during Norris' first pro season and a bit, it's probably still not fair now.  Beede's performance this year will go a long way toward determining that.

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