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.
Since 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.
Big thanks to Daniel Norris for taking the time to answer my questions.
You can follow him on Twitter: @DanielNorris18