Down On the Farm – Daniel Norris With an Encouraging Start
Top prospect Daniel Norris was on the mound for the Buffalo Bisons yesterday, facing off against 2014’s 7th overall selection in the Amateur Draft, young right-hander Aaron Nola of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. As of 06/18/15, Norris had struck out batters at a very good rate of 21.8% so far this year for the Bisons, while walking 11.9%, a touch high. This has culminated in a SIERA of 4.16, which is only alright, so Norris’ next start looked to be very important for him.
Opposing him, Nola was coming off an excellent performance at the AA level, striking out 20.6% of his batters faced while walking an astonishingly low 3.1% of his batters faced, resulting in a SIERA of just 3.33. Nola was taken 7th overall by the Phillies in the 2014 draft and is their second highest ranking prospect, behind shortstop J.P. Crawford.
Norris looked good out the gate, starting off with a scoreless first. Nola countered with a scoreless first as well. However, after grabbing a run off of Norris in the second, Lehigh Valley scored another 3 off of Norris in the 5th on a bases-clearing triple from former Jays farmhand Russ Canzler. The score ended up 5-4 in favor of Lehigh, after Buffalo’s attempted comeback sprung by a rather comical error in right field. The save was credited to another former Jays farmhand, and quite the story himself, lefty Adam Loewen; Loewen was a highly regarded pitching prospect who couldn’t get his walks under control, and switched to hitting. He hit his first MLB home run with the Blue Jays, but did not stick, and has now converted back to pitching. The final score of this game, however, is not an indication of Norris’ pitching.
It’s fair to say that Norris was sitting between 91-93 while touching roughly 95 today, while Nola sat low 90’s as well. However, the radar gun told a different story; Buffalo’s notoriously bad radar gun had Norris and Nola’s fastballs sitting at just 86-87. Ignoring the faulty gun, Norris and Nola both sat at good velocities. Norris’ curveball flashed brilliance. Sitting between 78-82 (as well as one in the 60’s), the curve garnered lots of swinging strikes. He relied on that curve as well as his changeup, sitting at similar which also garnered swinging strikes; in fact, just about everything Norris threw today resulted in a swinging strike. Admittedly, I stopped counting the massive amounts of swinging strikes Norris got, as he overpowered the Lehigh Valley hitters. If I had to estimate, I would guess that Norris got between 20-25 swinging strikes on about 90 pitches.
In all, Norris spotted his pitches well and overpowered Lehigh Valley hitters with a good 3 pitch mix. Unfortunately, when he did get hit, the ball went a long way, giving up a double and triple into the gap. Norris’ defense was alright but less than stellar, and while the umpire was giving both him and Nola a rather low zone (that neither seemed to need), during the disastrous 5th inning Norris did seem to get squeezed on the outer edges of the zone just a little bit. This start can only be considered encouraging for the young Jays prospect.
On the other side of the ball, Nola worked with mainly a two pitch mix featuring his fastball and a power breaking pitch sitting mid-high 80’s. Nola, as he tends to do, made his living on the outer edges of the plate, spotting his pitches with elite effectiveness. He has some funky arm action in his delivery, but it does not appear to affect him whatsoever. Nola had 69 strikes on 96 pitches, spotting the corners very well. In 7 and 2/3 innings, Nola had seven strikeouts to just one walk, completely shutting down the Bisons.
On one final note, Devon Travis was down in Buffalo rehabbing before he rejoins the Blue Jays. In the previous video, you can see Travis running to first base in the beginning. He ran very well, grounding out 3 times to the shortstop and looking good defensively, showcasing some impressive range.