Q and A With Daniel Norris

Daniel Norris was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft, after going 8-2 with a 2.24 ERA his senior year at Science Hill High School in Tennessee.

norrisSince the draft, Norris has posted some decent stats in the majors after making a unique progression through the minors. Following a couple of poor seasons in 2012 and 2013, Norris absolutely flew through the minors in 2014, jumping from High-A all the way to the big leagues, and going a combined 12-2 with a 2.53 ERA over the course of 25 minor leagues starts that season with three different teams.

After making his MLB debut in September of 2014, Norris spent quite a bit of time back in Triple-A in 2015, making just five more starts with Toronto before being traded to the Tigers at the trade deadline. Following that, Norris made eight starts for Detroit, in which he pitched some of the best baseball he had in his big league career to that point.

In 2016, Norris made just 13 big league starts due to some injuries, but continued to prove to the baseball world that he is in fact a major league quality pitcher, posting a 3.38 ERA over the course of his 69.1 innings. Moving into 2017, it should be exciting to see how Daniel Norris is able to make an even bigger name for himself as an impact pitcher.

Daniel Norris — pitcher for the Detroit Tigers — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

Honestly, for as long as I can remember baseball was my gig. It was and still is what I think about before falling asleep. Whether that be my next start or simply playing catch the next day — that passion has always been extremely strong. Growing up, my favorite player was Chipper jones. I loved watching him play the game with such a silky smooth essence about him. Truth be told, I could count Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez as an influence in ‘The Sandlot’. The kid just loved the game more than anyone. I can relate.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

I guess I answered that in question number one. But to reiterate, Chipper carried that old-school baseball approach into the later years of his career, even when the game was starting to change and get younger. I respected his desire to keep the game gritty rather than flashy.

3.) You were drafted by the Blue Jays in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. What was that process like for you? Initial thoughts?

I feel like that process for me was a little different than some, I suppose. All along, leading up to the draft, I was told by everyone that I was a sure-fire first rounder. I started to believe them. But when the draft came around I fell to the second [round] because of . . . well, it was just God’s plan. So through that time, disappointment was unavoidable. But shortly after, I realized how incredibly blessed I was to even have an opportunity to play at the next level. So God played a huge part in understanding the stepping stones of pro ball for me.

4.) You broke out in 2014 to have a very special season. That year, you went from High-A in April all the way up to the majors in September. Did you find the rapid ascension overwhelming at times, or was it just one of those seasons where everything came together?

It would be easy to say that everything just kinda came together, but it wouldn’t be entirely true. It was up to the Jays system to challenge me, and I just accepted the challenge each time. I work extremely hard. And I expect for it to pay off. That year my work off of the field started to translated to the mound.

5.) The following year, you were traded to the Tigers mid-season. Switching organizations halfway through the year, did you find the trade somewhat difficult to adjust to or did you quickly adapt to your new home?

The trade definitely came as a surprise to me, but I was welcomed with open arms by my new team. I was stoked on a new place to call home and kind of a start fresh. Sometimes that’s what you need in order to reset yourself and refocus on what is truly important to you and your career.

6.) Despite the success you had in 2015, you also spent a good portion of the season pitching with a secret. Unbeknownst to nearly everyone around baseball, you had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer but chose to finish out the season. How did your diagnosis affect you on the mound?

There’s no doubt that was a wicked curveball thrown my way, but I 100-percent believe that was God’s way of telling me to appreciate everyday I get to put on a uniform. At that time, when I found out, I was pressing on the mound. I had been sent to Triple-A, and I was trying to make my way back up to the big leagues, living and dying by every pitch. But those circumstances immediately made me remember what it was like to just have fun between the lines.

7.) On a lighter note — it’s one of the questions I’m sure you’re asked the most about, but it’s so intriguing to so many people that I would be remiss to not bring it up. Every year since 2011, you’ve spent portions of the offseason living out of a 1978 VW microbus nicknamed “Shaggy”. During those times, what does your typical day consist of?

There’s a bit of a misconception with that. Some people seem to think I spend the entire offseason living out of the van, skipping workouts, and just running around on the beach [laughs]. I have home base in Tennessee where I spend a lot of time working out twice a day. I’m extremely focused on my career and development of my body. That being said, I frequently take camping trips that can range up to a few weeks at a time (still working out everyday on the road). Then, when it’s time to go down to Florida for spring training, I pack up the van in the middle of January and live in it until pitchers and catchers report toward the end of February.

8.) Playing alongside some great pitchers in your career to this point, such as Justin Verlander this past season, what kind of things have you been able to pick up from them that has helped you on the mound?

I honestly don’t have enough space to put in here what Ver[lander] has taught me. I like to watch and learn, and he is one of the best to watch every fifth day. He also goes out of his way to sit down and talk to me about pitching, which obviously helps a ton.

9.) Despite starting in only thirteen games, what do you feel went well in 2016? What are your goals for 2017?

I think I finally started to come into my own toward the end of 2016; starting to understand my mechanics and what it takes to be more consistent. I think it was the best I’ve thrown a baseball in a long time, and I’m excited to continue that work in 2017.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

For me, I gave it all to God and let Him clear my path. All along the way I told myself to work harder than anyone ever has; to keep my head down; go about my business the right way; and respect the game as well as my teammates. But more so than anything, like I said, I always thank God for what I am able to do.

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Big thanks to Daniel Norris for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @DanielNorris18

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2016 MLB Postseason Predictions

For the fifth straight season, I made preseason predictions as to how I felt each division would play out, and for the fifth straight season I was extremely far off. For one reason or another, I’m not very good at making division predictions before a given season begins.

This year, though, I hope to finally correctly predict how the postseason will play out. While I’ll likely be off, either by a little or a lot, it’s always fun to make predictions. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and have a perfect prediction of how the postseason will unfold. You never can tell what may happen in October.

WILD CARD GAMES (AL October 4th & NL October 5th)

American League: Blue Jays Vs. Orioles

Winner: Orioles

This is sure to be a great game between two great teams, and although it will be played up in Toronto, with the Blue Jays having home-field advantage, I think the Orioles will be able to prevail. The key reason behind that logic lies with Zach Britton, who can almost guarantee a win, should the Orioles be holding the lead heading into the ninth. With the Orioles having hit the most homers in all of baseball this season, they should be able to put together enough runs to pull out the victory, despite having to face Toronto’s Marcus Stroman.

National League: Mets Vs. Giants

Winner: Mets

I realize it’s an even number year, and therefore the Giants should be all but guaranteed to win the entire World Series — they won in 2010, 2012 and 2014 — but I don’t even see them making it past the Wild Card game. Yes, the Giants’ starter, Madison Bumgarner, had a stupendously great year, but the Mets have a Cy Young candidate of their own on the bump, in the form of Noah Syndergaard. With this sure to be a pitcher’s duel, one run very well could be the difference, with the Mets’ lineup simply having more thump than that of the Giants.

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 6th)

Indians Vs. Red Sox

Winner: Red Sox

I’ve been betting against the Indians all season long, so I’m a bit hesitant to go against them after they had the season they did. But although I don’t think this will be an easy task by any means for the Red Sox, I see them overtaking the Indians, especially with the injuries Cleveland began experiencing towards the end of the regular season. Without the full health of their rotation, I don’t see the Indians overtaking Boston. For that reason, when all is said and done, the Red Sox should be the team moving on to the ALCS.

Rangers Vs. Orioles

Winner: Orioles

This is by far the most difficult decision I had to make to this point in the post, as both teams have very even rosters from top to bottom, and each have had rotations that have struggled at times. But despite all of that, the Orioles seem to be a bit better set up for a postseason push than the Rangers do. Having likely just won the Wild Card game in my mind against the Blue Jays, I feel that Texas won’t be able to withstand the momentum of the hard-hitting and hard-throwing Orioles for the full length of the series.

NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 7th)

Nationals Vs. Dodgers

Winner: Nationals

After several disappointing seasons in which many people envisioned great things for the Nationals only to watch them fall apart during or even before the playoffs, this is the year for the Nationals to finally win a few playoff games, in my opinion. Although they have a great deal of injuries, including those to several All-Star players, I don’t think the Dodgers will be able to compete with Washington when all is said and done, even with the best starting pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, leading their staff.

Cubs Vs. Mets

Winner: Cubs

2016 is finally the year of the Cubs — or at least that’s what ninety-nine percent of the baseball world is happily telling themselves. Following a century-long drought of a World Series title, the Cubs seemingly have no holes whatsoever in their entire roster. Even though there’s a long way to go before the end of the postseason (they need to win eleven games to take home the Championship), there are still a lot of reasons to like the Cubs. I really don’t think this will be that competitive of a series, with the Mets lacking the all-around talent that the Cubs have.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 14th)

Orioles Vs. Red Sox

Winner: Red Sox

This will wind up being the end of the line for the Orioles as far as I’m seeing things now. If in fact they are taking on the Red Sox in the ALCS, I don’t think the Orioles will be able to beat them in the end. Even so, this series could wind up going to a sixth or possibly even seventh deciding game. It would truly be one of the best postseason series we’ve seen in quite a while, especially with it being the final season for David Ortiz. What each team lacks in pitching dominance, they more than make up for in power hitting, which could make this a back-and-forth series.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 15th)

Nationals Vs. Cubs

Winner: Cubs

If the Nationals manage to make it this far into the playoffs, it will include a small amount of luck, and I simply don’t think they will be able to defeat the powerhouse Cubs. As I’ve already stated, the Cubbies are one of the best all-around teams we’ve seen in quite some time, and the Nationals don’t seem to have what it takes to take down a team such as Chicago. With that said, I still think it would end up being an exciting matchup, just not quite as good as the ALCS would be. But then again, it’s October baseball, where the impossible happens on a regular basis.

WORLD SERIES (Begins October 25th)

Red Sox Vs. Cubs

Winner: Cubs

What a World Series matchup this would be, between two great teams and taking place at two 100-year-old ballparks. With the Cubs looking to end their historical 108-year losing streak, and the Red Sox looking to send David Ortiz off into the sunset with style, neither team would want to give an inch in this series. I could easily see this matchup taking six or seven games to decide, with the Cubs ultimately just beating out the Red Sox. Thus, after nearly eleven decades without a World Title, I’m predicting this to finally be the year the Cubs win the World Series.

Mariners Attempting to Break Postseason Drought

Back in 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates were finally able to snap their 21-year postseason drought. Last season, the Toronto Blue Jays saw their 22-year postseason skid end. And now, the Seattle Mariners are in good positioning to get rid of their own 15-season departure from the playoffs.

Mariners

Sitting just one game back of a Wild Card spot (6 back of the Rangers for the divisional lead), the Mariners are doing all they can to finally make it to the playoffs for the first time in quite a number of years.

At the beginning of the season, a lot of people predicted the Astros to run away with the division after the great season they had last year. But things haven’t gone exactly as planned for them, leaving the door open for the Mariners to make their climb up the division standings.

But it hasn’t been all luck for the Mariners.

Their big three of Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager have each been having fantastic years, and have been doing a great job of carrying the team even when their pitching hasn’t been that great. And their pitchers have been fairly subpar at times.

Felix Hernandez — their Ace of the staff, and normally a perennial Cy-Young candidate — has been a bit shaky throughout the season (though, he’s looked good in his starts since his DL stint). Likewise, the rest of Seattle’s rotation hasn’t been overly dominant, though they have done enough to get the job done for the most part. In the end, it’s the Mariners pitching that’s going to be the deciding factor for whether or not they make it to the playoffs.

No matter what, the Mariners have shown the world that they have the ability to be a very competitive squad. Whether or not they make the postseason is yet to be determined, but their place as a dangerous team for years to come has already been established.

State of the Baseball World After the Trade Deadline

The days and weeks leading up to baseball’s annual trade deadline is always a hectic time around Major League Baseball. Virtually, no player is safe from the trade market if the right offer is presented, and there is guaranteed to always be some exciting moves. In the end, it’s the trades made now that can make or break any team’s season two months down the road.

Over the last week, or so, before Monday’s trade deadline, a number of big-time transactions (18 trades, involving 49 players, on Monday alone) took place. Although some where bigger than others, and will therefore have greater impacts, they all will have some impact on the landscape of Major League Baseball. Since it would be nearly impossible to discuss every single move, here’s a recap of some of the larger ones in my mind:

Arguably the biggest trade made of the entire week was the one that saw Aroldis Chapman heading to the Cubs for a Chapmanquad of prospects, in Adam Warren, Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford. While giving up four future stars for a closer isn’t necessarily always a good move, it definitely is in this case. With Chapman possessing a fastball that can be cranked up to 105, Chapman is one of the most dominant at what he does and definitely makes the Cubs the World Series favorites again after they had fallen off a bit as of late.

Another move that made a team favorites once again was the one that saw Melvin Upton Jr. getting sent off to the Blue Jays for Hansel Rodriguez. Upton has truly been having a breakout season after a few down years, and he will be able to help make the Jays even better. Although he pales in comparison to Toronto’s power group of Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarancion, Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson, Upton Jr. is still a big pickup for the Jays.

The only true blockbuster trade of the past week involved a total of seven players. Andrew Cashner, Colin Rea (later returned due to injury concerns) and CashnerTayron Guerrero were sent to the Marlins for Jarred Cosart, Carter Capps, Luis Castillo (the prospect returned for Rea) and Josh Naylor. While Cashner hasn’t been having the greatest of seasons, he has shown signs in the past of being dominant at times. On the flip side, Cosart hasn’t really ever lived up to the hype and will be looking to breakout with San Diego.

Speaking of hype — while the Nationals have lived up to the preseason billings to this point in the season, their closer, Jonathan Papelbon, has not. For that reason, the Nats went out and secured what they view as the answer to the problem, getting Mark Melancon from the Pirates for Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn. I like the move a lot, as Melancon can truly be a big impact player towards the end of any given game and should give them added security to lock up close games.

One of the oddest trades of the lot occurred when Matt Kemp was sent to the Braves for Hector Olivera. While Kemp is going to be a Brave for the foreseeable future due to his large contract, Olivera, on the other hand, was immediately released upon his arrival to San Diego. Overall, Olivera has been more trouble than he’s worth, not playing the way he had been expected and getting involved in a lot of off-the-field issues. For that reason, the move works out great for the Padres, as they finally were able to free up Kemp’s contract, despite losing him to the Braves, who are looking to rebuild.

Another team who made it apparent they were in the rebuilding stage are the New York Yankees. After sending off Chapman earlier in the week, the Yankees parted ways with another piece of the Yankees’ “three-headed monster” in the form of Andrew Miller, leaving just Dellin Betances in what was once seen as the best bullpen in baseball. Even so, the Yankees were able to acquire Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen to reload their subpar farm system.

But the Yankees weren’t yet done with their team reshaping. On the day of the deadline, the Yankees sent Carlos BeltranBeltran to the Rangers for Dillon Tate, Nick Green and Erik Swanson. While the Yankees felt confident heading into this season that they could make the postseason, things haven’t gone their way, and the Yankees are obviously planning for next year and beyond by adding a ton of great prospects to their farm system.

However, the Giants are seemingly planning for now, going out and picking up Matt Moore from the Rays for Matt Duffy, Lucius Fox and Michael Santos. This move gives the Giants yet another key piece to their rotation to attempt another run at the World Series. Whether or not they get there is yet to be seen, but Moore will assuredly give them good outings that improves their chances greatly.

But while the Giants are on top in the National League West, the Dodgers made a move to attempt to chase them down. On Monday, the Dodgers acquired Rich Hill and Josh Reddick from the Athletics for Frankie Montas, Grant Holmes ad Jharel Cotton. Although those three are some big time pieces to give up, the Dodgers received back a nice piece in Josh Reddick and a pitcher who (once healthy again) should help them make up a few innings with Kershaw on the DL.

BruceOne of the moves that I liked the most is the pickup of Jay Bruce by the Mets for Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell. Anticipated to be slotted behind Yoenis Cespedes in the Mets’ lineup, the addition of Bruce makes the Mets a very formidable bunch. If the Mets didn’t have a any sort of chance before at chasing down the first place Nationals, they certainly have a decent shot now.

But while the Mets are looking to chase down the Nationals, the Rangers are looking to extend their lead in the American League Central. After Jonathan Lucroy was reportedly traded away to the Indians for a few prospects, that deal turned out to fall through, as Lucroy vetoed the trade. In the end, however, Lucroy found himself heading to the Rangers, in addition to Jeremy Jeffress, in exchange for Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz. Although I really liked those two prospects, Lucroy and Jeffress should help the Rangers in their push towards the postseason, especially with Beltran being added as well.

Finally, the Blue Jays made another splash just before the deadline arrived, getting Francisco Liriano, Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez from the Pirates for Drew Hutchinson. With the Jays’ rotation needing a bit of a boost, I feel that Liriano will give them just that. It remains to be seen how much of an impact he will have, but Liriano could be a major difference maker for Toronto in the weeks to come.

While not all of these trades will wind up paying off, it will certainly be interesting to follow them all as the season progresses. Sometimes it’s the simplest of moves that can cause a team to take off. You never can tell from one year to the next what will be the key to taking teams to the ultimate high of a World Series title.

Baseball Returns With a Three-Game Slate

It’s been a little over five months since the last non-exhibition Major League Baseball game was played, but meaningful baseball is finally taking place again today (Opening Day, part one). After a month of Spring Training games, six of baseball’s thirty teams are scheduled to dual it out over the course of this afternoon and evening, with the remaining twenty-four squads playing their opening games on Monday.Opening Day

Game one of the regular season is set to kick off at 1:05, and sees the Cardinals taking on the Pirates in a National League Central battle. Francisco Liriano and Adam Wainwright are the scheduled starters for the contest, leaving little to doubt that it will be a great game. With the NL Central likely to be a very close race throughout the coming 162 games, it’s never been more important to get off to a good start against a division rival.

The second game on the docket for today is another divisional faceoff, as the Blue Jays are going up against their American League East counterpart Rays. While the Rays aren’t predicted to hold up against Toronto in the long run, anything can happen in the first game of the year. On the mound for Tampa is Chris Archer, with Marcus Stroman toeing the rubber for the Jays. It will likely be a fun one to watch, with this game beginning at 4:05 in the afternoon.

But while the previous two games are sure to be exciting and well worth watching, the one I’m going to be watching the closest and am looking forward to the most is the World Series rematch between the Mets and the Royals at 8:37. Game five of the Fall Classic way back on November 1st saw Matt Harvey starting for the Mets, with Edinson Volquez setting the tone for Kansas City, which just so happens to be the pitching matchup for tonight. For that reason, this should wind up being an unbelievable game.

As we all know, the Royals walked away World Series champions over the Mets in 2015, however, that was last season. It’s a new year, and with it comes new opportunities for each and every team around baseball. The road to the World Series starts with game one, and the first week always promises excitement from teams and individual players around baseball, as they all look to get off to hot starts.

Let the season begin.

Darwin Barney Shines In Spring Training Kickoff

The first game of the 2016 Major League Baseball Spring Training month of March saw the Philadelphia Phillies taking on the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday afternoon. While these games don’t count in the standings and show no definite signs of how any team will fare in the regular season, you have to figure that the Blue Jays (they won 5-2) are headed for another postseason run,Barney with Philadelhia on the flip side still in the process of rebuilding.

Even so, if it wasn’t for one player in Toronto’s lineup, things may have turned out quite differently on the day. Darwin Barney is currently still batting a thousand in the books, after going 3-3 with five total RBI’s for the game. Although you can’t take such a quick start as a sign of things to come, especially with pitchers not at the top of their game yet, it is certainly nice to see for Barney.

After being a regular player for the Cubs from 2011 through 2013, Barney hasn’t been able to stay consistent in the majors since being traded to the Dodgers in 2014. Spending nearly 100 games in the minors last season before being traded to the Blue Jays, Barney wasn’t with Toronto long enough to be eligable for their postseason push, which was obviously disappointing for him.

But if game one of Spring Training is any inclination, Darwin Barney looks to be on a mission to become an everyday player again in the big leagues, with ultimate hopes of still playing big time games come October.

Evaluating My Postseason “Predictions” Two Weeks In

If you’re anything like me, your postseason predictions are likely already blown apart.

At this point, of the four teams still remaining, I only picked two of them correctly. With the Royals taking on the Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series, I successfully selected them to match up, but failed with my prediction of the Cardinals and Dodgers squaring off in the National League Division Series (it’s the Mets and CubsPostseason instead).

With no correct picks from the National League side at this point, there’s obviously no chance at having correctly picked the World Series matchup as I did in 2014.

It’s going to be the Cubs or Mets taking on the Royals or Blue Jays. However, it seems like it’ll be a Mets-Royals World Series, unlike the way I foresaw things with the Blue Jays and Dodgers in the Fall Classic.

Even so, it’s sure to be an exciting World Series. If it does in fact end up being the Mets and Royals, there are sure to be some terrific matchups. The Mets are better on paper, especially with their pitching staff, but Kansas City plays its own version of good baseball, and they could wind up doing the one thing they fell one win shy of in 2014: winning the World Series.