I expected Norris to get the promotion; his stuff will more than play at the higher level and he’s begun to show the consistency that’s eluded him for much of the past two seasons. Cole was a bit of a surprise but an examination of some of his stats over the second half of the season shows that he’s really improved.
Cole, who just turned 24, isn’t a particularly hard thrower and I saw him early in the season in one of his better starts. On May 5, he was throwing a fastball in the 87-88 mph range plus a slider in the high 70s. I was told that he was also throwing a cutter and a changeup. Talking to some people around Lansing and in Vancouver (where he dominated last year with a 0.81 ERA), I learned that Cole relied mostly on his fastball and his outstanding changeup last season. Early this year in Lansing, I think he (and the coaches) realized that he needed to mix in his other pitches and it might have taken him some time to figure out that part of the game.
In July, Cole started to turn things around, seeing his K/9 rate rise for the first time since a fairly strong 7.3 K/9 figure in April. In May, he only struck out 5.2 batters per 9 innings and that number rose to 5.7 in June. In July, however, despite struggles with his control (17 walks in 30 innings), he struck out 22 for a 6.6 K/9. August has really been his month. In 5 starts in Lansing and 1 in Dunedin, Cole has pitched 33 1/3 innings with just 10 walks and 29 strikeouts for a very respectable 7.8 K/9. This actually includes the only 2 strikeouts he got in his first Dunedin start; the drop in dominance is to be expected.
Cole’s overall Lansing numbers are pretty solid: In 132 innings, he’s given up 141 hits (but only 5 home runs), 59 walks and 101 strikeouts, giving him a 1.71 K/BB ratio. Over that span, Cole has a pretty good 4.02 ERA and a 1.515 WHIP that could stand to improve if he’s going to move up higher in the system.
Daniel Norris is another story altogether. Norris, at only 20 years old, doesn’t have to get by with guile and changing speeds. He throws a 93-94 mph fastball that can touch 96 (although he demonstrates better control and consistency in the 93 mph range) and has a very nasty slider to go with an excellent changeup. He also throws a curveball that, I’ve been told, can be excellent although I felt that it was his 4th best pitch in the start that I saw.
I can say from seeing him first-hand that Norris is the real deal and shouldn’t have any problems in Dunedin (as long as he continues to find the consistency that he’s really developed over the past couple of months). He still struggles with wildness (as is reflected by his high 11.4% walk rate but he strikes out a lot of batters (25.4% over the entire season) and while that mark is extremely good, it’s not even better because I think that he’s been working on pitching to contact (as have a lot of Blue Jays minor leaguers) in order to conserve pitches when working on pitch counts.
Overall this year, he’s pitched 85 2/3 innings with Lansing, putting up a 4.20 ERA and 1.494 WHIP. That number is high because of the walks but he’s been very tough to hit, particularly lately. He’s given up 6 home runs this year (still a very good rate), but only 2 of them have been hit since he came back from his injury in July, over a span of 40 2/3 innings. He’s also struck out 99 batters over the season, 51 of those since his return from the DL.
There’s a lot that’s been written about Norris of late. You can catch my own scouting report of him from a game a few weeks ago in Lansing as well as an interview I did with his pitching coach this year, Vince Horsman, from our fifteenth podcast.
Here are some snippets of that conversation:
Horsman: “Danny will show flashes of pure dominance at times against hitters . . . ” Norris has a “really bright future, he’s got to iron out a few things and his command needs to improve.”
On Norris’s changeup:
“I wish he would have thrown more . . . his changeup is, surprisingly, a very good pitch . . .”
We’re pleased to see both Taylor Cole and Daniel Norris get a chance to pitch in Dunedin to close the season and get a chance to get into some playoff action!