The Situation: With the postseason all but out of reach, the Blue Jays are promoting yet another of their top pitching prospects. Following the promotion of Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez earlier this year, left-hander Daniel Norris will cap off his season in the big leagues.
Background: After being popped in the second round in 2011, Norris made his professional debut with a very rough showing across two levels in 2012. He rebounded some in 2013 and posted a 4.20 ERA and better than a strikeout per inning with Low-A Lansing. The 2014 season represented Norris' coming-out party as he breezed through three levels, capping it off with a 3.18 ERA in 22 2/3 innings at Triple-A, where he allowed just 14 hits and fanned 22 batters.
Scouting Report: Norris can come at hitters with a four-pitch mix that is fronted by a quality fastball and slider combination. Norris can run the fastball toward 95 mph when he needs a little extra and sits comfortably in the low 90s. His fastball has very good movement and he can work it east-west with ease. The slider comes in around the mid-80s with plus potential, giving Norris two pitches that can be high-end major-league offerings.
Behind the fastball, Norris is still developing his arsenal. Both the curveball and changeup are a little rough around the edges, though they each flash potential to be average pitches at peak. In my viewings the curveball showed more potential to become an average pitch, with the changeup resting in the fringy range.
The command profile still has to come along to match the primary two pitches, but he shows an ability to move the fastball around the zone and can take the hitter out of the strike zone with the slider. Norris’ ability to move the fastball around the zone at a young age hints at the potential for an advanced control-and-command profile that should serve him well against the best hitters in the world.
All told, Norris looks the part of a no. 4 starter with the potential to slide up to a no. 3 projection if the curveball or changeup takes a legitimate step forward. His frame should allow him to take on a host of innings which could make him a very valuable big-league commodity.
Immediate Big-League Future: Norris has some work to do in order to find consistent success against major-league hitters. He will have stretches where he dominates and other stretches where he struggles to finish hitters and get out of innings. This fall’s trial run with the Blue Jays is more about setting him up for success in 2015 than it is about any expectations that he'll truly perform and help the big club down the stretch. —Mark Anderson
Fantasy Impact: An incredible year from Norris culminates in a call-up for him, making it the fourth level he’s pitched at in 2014. While he’s always had the upside (ranked no. 54 on Kevin Goldstein’s 2012 top prospect list), Norris was finally injury free in 2014, and dominated every level he appeared in. While he’s done his damage as a starter in the minors, the Blue Jays will use him in relief for the remainder of the season, both to ease him into the major leagues and as a way to limit his workload.
While he uses a four-pitch mix, Norris will likely lean on his fastball and slider out of the bullpen. Not only are they his best pitches, but the need for such a deep arsenal is not nearly as intense in relief. Notwithstanding some present concerns about his control, Norris’ athleticism gives hope that he can repeat his mechanics going forward and thus gain a better grasp of the strike zone. If he can do so, he’ll have two plus pitches at his disposal, with a developing changeup and a fringy curve.
Despite the high-profile nature of the call-up, Norris is avoidable in all redraft leagues. In keeper or dynasty leagues, it’s likely that he was already owned but. if not, he’s worth a stash heading into 2015. The Jays hold a $10 million club option on the injured Brandon Morrow ($1 million buyout), and J.A. Happ is currently part of their rotation, so Norris has a good chance of contributing next season, and doing so early on. He’ll have to contend with bullpenmate Aaron Sanchez for the rotation spot, but Norris has a deeper repertoire and better command of the zone, which gives him an edge.
As with other starting pitching prospects called up as relievers in September, a speculative bid in the $5 range makes sense—it's only a moderate loss if he doesn't break camp or come up early next season. Norris has a chance to have an impact in strikeouts, though his home park and generally tough division work against him. There’s enough upside here that a SP2 ceiling is within reach in the long term, but expecting anything more than SP4 status in the early going is getting greedy. Nabbing him now would give the enterprising owner the flexibility to cash in on the hype heading into the offseason, as well. —Craig Goldstein