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The Blue Jays have opened up the coffers of their pitching-rich farm system in 2014. Marcus Stroman (the top prospect in the system preseason) has established himself as a rotation fixture while Aaron Sanchez (prospect no. two) may have found a home in the Toronto bullpen. The newest addition is left-hander Daniel Norris, ranked fourth in the organization entering the year (just missing the BP Top 101), and who bumped up to no. 33 in the BP mid-season rankings. Norris made his big-league debut on September 5th, and after four appearances out of the bullpen he was given his first big-league start, toeing the rubber at home against the Mariners in game number 159.

2014 Statistics

GS

IP

ERA

K %

BB %

H %

HR %

A+

13

66.3

1.22

29.0%

6.9%

19.1%

0.0%

AA

8

35.7

4.54

31.6%

11.0%

20.6%

3.2%

AAA

4

22.7

3.18

44.7%

9.4%

16.5%

2.4%

MLB

1

6.7

5.40

13.3%

16.7%

16.7%

3.3%

Norris was a strikeout machine this season, and he improved his K-rate as he climbed the ladder through the minor leagues. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound lefty jumped three levels in 2014 with less time spent at each successive rung, culminating in his September cameo. It was a remarkable jump, putting Norris in the big leagues a full year ahead of projections. The walk rate is still a work in progress, but it's his relative improvement in pitch command that allowed Norris to accelerate his timetable.

His first MLB start was brief by design, as the southpaw hadn't started a game in a month and the Jays were not about to throw caution to the wind at the end of Norris' longest season as a professional. He lasted 3 1/3 innings and 59 total pitches, surrendering one hit, a pair of walks, two earned runs (though both runs were bequeathed by the bullpen) and a single a strikeout. The game featured flashes of the stuff that struck out 163 minor-league hitters this season, as well as the command issues that have plagued Norris thus far in his young career.

The lefty struggled to maintain his velocity in the September 25th game, going from 92-94 mph in the first inning to 88-90 mph in the third. There are several caveats here, from the typical first-inning burst of a fired-up pitcher making his starting debut to end-season fatigue and his 30-day layoff from the rotation, so the downward velo trend is not a concern so much as it is something to keep an eye on with his future starts. The BP prospect crew put him at 92-95 mph and touching 97 prior to the season, with his fastball receiving a 6 grade overall, and the early returns suggest that the heat will be a weapon for the southpaw.

The big question, as it is with virtually any young pitcher, is fastball command. In the September 25th game, Norris had a prevailing tendency to miss up (especially to the arm-side) against opposing batters. He did this with all of the pitch-types at his disposal, indicating that a late trigger was preventing him from achieving full extension at release point. He actually had a series of 12 consecutive pitches in the third inning that were all elevated, most of which finished above the zone. Elevated pitches will eventually meet their doom in the majors, and the Blue Jays will surely address the issue if it's pervasive rather than a single-game blip.

Pitch Type

Count

Freq

Velo (mph)

pfx HMov (in.)

pfx VMov (in.)

H. Rel (ft.)

V. Rel (ft.)

Fourseam

66

48.18%

91.82

4.97

10.88

1.68

6.38

Sinker

18

13.14%

91.01

8.64

9.11

1.69

6.32

Change

24

17.52%

83.38

3.20

3.28

1.84

6.22

Slider

15

10.95%

81.12

-2.94

-0.58

1.67

6.20

Curve

14

10.22%

73.70

0.10

-9.74

1.49

6.33

The stuff appears relatively modest given the tease of his minor-league numbers, and though the heat should be an asset, his secondary pitches were more intriguing during Norris' cup of coffee. The curveball was a looper that ran anywhere from 70-75 mph and which he typically threw with two-plane break, though it did get more vertical at times. The pitch appeared to leave his hand with a non-fastball trajectory and a hump in the flight path, meaning that he will need sick movement on the pitch to fool MLB hitters who can identify it quickly.

The slider had tighter movement at a higher velocity, though it shared the shape characteristics of the curve. It appears to be more effective when he gets some depth on the pitch, but the slider flattened out a few times in the game on September 25th. The change-up was particularly striking, with some late drop but non-traditional movement on the horizontal plane; he gets a bit of cut on his cambio as opposed to arm-side run. The trend can be seen in his HMOV stats in the above chart from BrooksBaseball, as his change-up falls between the four-seam and slider in terms of movement, rather than the four-seam and two-seam.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

60

Momentum

55

Torque

50

Posture

50

Repetition

40

Overall

C+

The grades above are merely a snapshot based on Norris' first taste of the majors, and should be considered more of a progress report given the brevity of his first bite of the show. He was particularly inconsistent with his balance and his posture, trading off stable deliveries that would earn a balance grade of 65-plus with those that finished with violent spin-offs to the glove-side. His posture followed the balance, with plus marks when he maintained head position that were off-set by pitches with considerable spine-tilt. The net result of the inconsistent posture was an average grade of 50, and his stability prior to foot strike earned him a plus score in the balance category, but he has the upside for much better scores on his report card.

Norris is slow at the start of his delivery but uses a good burst with his second gear. He has a closed stride, directing his energy toward the left-hand batter's box before redirecting the baseball back toward the plate, utilizing an S-shaped pattern of kinetic energy that likely contributes to both his deception and his inconsistency. His path of momentum can be volatile, and his follow-through is a blatant indicator of how well he lined up his delivery. When the left-hander finishes on-line, his body follows the baseball toward the plate for a moment before he steps toward the glove side; when his momentum is misaligned, he has the tendency to invoke spine-tilt and then fall off to the third-base side of the mound. From a physics perspective, the key is his component vector of momentum in the Z plane (from rubber to home plate), and his efficiency is tied to the magnitude of that component vector (which is inversely related to the component vector of momentum in the X plane, i.e., the width of the plate).

His method of torque is interesting, in that he utilizes both a delay of trunk rotation and a hip-whip strategy at the same time. The key to this is an extreme delay of hip rotation, as Norris often fires hips and shoulders after foot strike, and his tendency to open the front shoulder prematurely (aka early trigger) further complicates his torque. With a big upper-body twist and the inconsistency of his absolute hip-shoulder separation, the net result is a 50-grade of torque efficiency, though there is considerable room for that score to move in either direction.

Norris has an arm slot that can hover around one o'clock on the clock-face, depending on the degree of spine-tilt on that particular pitch, and he augments that tilt with a high angle of shoulder abduction. The net result is a 6.4-foot release height (Z score of 0.56) that gives him the potential for downhill plane if he can hone his command at the bottom of the strike zone. His ability to hit ideal extension and find a consistent delivery was less than the 40-grade for repetition might indicate, but I'm giving him some benefit of the doubt given the sample size and the end-of-season caveats that are in play. He also earns some bonus points for the consistency of his inaccuracy, given the prevailing tendency of a late arm and pitches that missed above their targets. His delivery flashed B- upside but was interrupted with C- results on some pitches, so I'll mark him down for a C+ on the progress report and look forward to future improvement.

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