By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Daniel Norris, Starting Pitcher, Detroit Tigers
2015 season (Minors): 16 G, 16 GS, 90 2/3 IP, 4.27 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 3 W, 78 SO, 41 BB
2015 season (Majors): 13 G, 13 GS, 60 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 3 W, 45 SO, 19 BB
To say that Daniel Norris had an eventful 2015 would be an understatement. The top prospect first gained notoriety last Spring Training when it was found out that he was living in his van. From there, the then-Blue Jays top prospect had an up and down season, struggling to find his velocity, before it was found that he had thyroid cancer.
The Blue Jays and TIgers both knew about the cancer when he was traded to Detroit in July, and Norris continued to pitch, as it was detected early on. He underwent surgery in October to remove part of his left thyroid, began offseason workouts just a couple weeks after and the focus was back on baseball for the 2016, just like that. All craziness aside, Norris is healthy and ready to become a mainstay in the Tigers’ rotation this season.
The 6-foot-2 left-hander was highly regarded when he was drafted out of high school and joined Toronto as a 19-year-old second-round Draft pick. But it wasn’t until the 2014 season that he started to make a push toward the Major Leagues. He cruised from Class A Advanced to Triple-A that year, posting a 2.53 ERA and 1.118 WHIP while striking out 11.8 batters per nine innings in 26 games. Norris made the Blue Jays out of Spring Training last season, but after an inconsistent April he was optioned to Triple-A, where he continued to struggle as he searched for his velocity and control.
Norris stuck in the bigs with the Tigers after the trade, and his results were promising, yet inconsistent. Despite a couple of very poor, short outings, he put together a few quality starts and managed to finish the year with a decent ERA.
Now his attention turns toward finding some footing in the Tigers’ rotation this season. Norris finds himself in a battle with Shane Greene and Matt Boyd for the No. 5 starter’s spot. Greene is coming off a bit of a disastrous season, and Boyd is a former sixth-round Draft pick who’s ceiling isn’t nearly as high as Norris’, so the 22-year-old Norris, who features four pitches — a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup — should have the edge.
Norris had immense success in the Minors making hitters miss, but the control has always been an issue. In Norris’ eight starts in Detroit, however, he walked just 1.7 batters per nine. If Norris can continue to keep his walks down while finding his velocity and keeping it up this spring, he should win a spot in the rotation and be able to realize his potential as a front end starter.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.