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

The Difficulty of Going Out on Top

Whenever a player who has had an amazing career announces plans to retire after any given season, you inevitably find yourself rooting for their team to go all the way and win the World Series so that the player can retire on top for their career with one final Championship. However, that unfortunately almost never happens.

Over the past several seasons, we’ve seen the retirements of some great players and fan-favorites, such as Torii Hunter (Twins finished 12 games back of the Royals), Derek Jeter (Yankees finished second to the Orioles), Mariano Rivera (Yankees finished in fourth place) and Chipper Jones (Braves made playoffs, but no World Series), just to name a few. But none of those players were on teams capable of going all the way to the World Series.

This season, I feel the Red Sox stand a decent chance of changing that fortune.Ortiz

Announcing his plans to retire after the 2016 season — plans that many are questioning with the superb numbers he is posting — David Ortiz is looking to record one final star season of what is arguably a Hall of Fame career, for a Red Sox team that he has impacted time and time again over the years. It would be fitting if they returned the favor and helped lead Boston to another World Title.

Despite finishing in dead-last in 2015, the Red Sox currently sit tied with the Orioles atop the American League East division standings. Although they’ve been a bit shaky at times, there have been other games that lead you to believe that the Sox could actually pull off the World Series sendoff for Ortiz.

But getting to the World Series is hard, with winning it being even harder. Some great players like Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, Craig Biggio, etc., never won a World Series title, even though they had great careers with some good teams. However, Ortiz already knows what it’s like to win it all, having won a World Title with the Red Sox in 2004, 2007 and 2013. He assuredly would love that feeling again in 2016.

Ortiz is certainly doing his part to make that happen. Over the course of 40 games this season, Ortiz is hitting .329 with 11 home runs (giving him 514 for his career) and 37 RBI’s — second to Robinson Cano for most in all of baseball. If he were to keep up that pace, he would wind up with around 35-40 homers and well over 100 RBI’s. Given, there are a lot of games still to be played, but what Ortiz is doing is simply remarkable.

But it’s not just Ortiz fueling the Red Sox and their march towards a fantastic season. Several players are breaking out into becoming stars, such as Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Travis Shaw and Jackie Bradley Jr. (as well as Brock Holt, before his injury), with Hanley Ramirez performing the way he was expected to when he was signed before last season.

Xander Bogaerts leads the team in batting average at .346, and is followed closely behind by Jackie Bradley Jr.’s .342 line, who is currently riding a 27-game hitting streak. In addition, Mookie Betts is second on the team in homers with 9, with Travis Shaw stepping up at third without Pablo Sandoval and making a big impact himself; as well as Hanley Ramirez who has shown some pop and is hitting above .300 on the season. With all of these pieces clicking, their lineup looks to be in good shape.

However, if there would be one thing that would keep the Red Sox from going all the way to a World Title, it would be their pitching. Good hitting can carry a team for awhile (the Red Sox are first in baseball in team batting average and RBI’s), despite a struggling rotation (Boston is 19th in team ERA), but eventually it won’t end up being enough, with those types of teams crumbling more times than not.

Steven Wright and Rick Porcello have been the Red Sox’s most reliable starters, being the only two pitchers of their rotation with an ERA below 4.00. David Price, who was acquired in the offseason to be the ace of the staff, has had aPrice few games where he dominated opposing hitters, but overall he’s been a big disappointment, with an ERA of 5.53 over 9 starts. Clay Buchholz has been even worse, holding a 5.92 ERA, and leaving the Red Sox looking for answers in that department.

Their bullpen, on the other hand, has been stellar, for the most part. When the game has gone to closer Craig Kimbrel in a save situation, he has looked like the Kimbrel of old, striking out 31 over 19 innings pitched and saving 12 out of 13 games he’s come in to close. Other guys, such as Junichi Tazawa, Matt Barnes, Tommy Layne and Heath Hembree have also done terrific jobs. But it’s their rotation that has left more to be desired.

Even so, the Red Sox appear to have things figured out enough that they can continue to win on a regular basis, despite their flaws. If their rotation begins to pitch the way it was envisioned to, the Red Sox could absolutely take off and run away with things, keeping in mind that it’s still very early, with over 100 games remaining.

But even if the Red Sox fall apart over the remainder of the season, or make the playoffs and simply can’t go the entire distance, David Ortiz is still on pace to have one of the best seasons of his career . . . at age 40.

If David Ortiz can’t go out on top with a World Title, he’ll certainly still leave with a bang.

What Can We Expect from the Red Sox In 2016?

When the Red Sox finished in last place in 2012, not many people predicted too much from them the next year, but they went on to win the 2013 World Series. Following their championship, there were a lot of expectations out of the Sox in 2014, but they once again finished dead last in their division. With Boston not faring any better this David Pricepast season, there is little guarantee as to where they will wind up when the 2016 season comes to a close.

But the Red Sox made a big splash in the free agent market on Tuesday evening, acquiring David Price for a record breaking contract. Price was signed to a seven year, 217 million dollar contract, locking him up in Boston through the 2022 season, and possibly for the rest of his career, with him being 30 years old.

The mega deal makes Price the highest paid pitcher in Major League Baseball history, beating out Clayton Kershaw’s 215 million dollar deal. His annual value of 31 million a season is over four times what Price earned in 2015, so it is undoubtedly a happy day for David Price.

But it’s also a happy day for Boston and their fans. While there are plenty of people who would say the Red Sox vastly overpaid for Price (I could easily see anyone making that case), there is no doubt that Price, who holds a 1.95 career ERA at Fenway Park, will ultimately help the Sox push towards the playoffs after another disappointing season in 2015.

One of the things that held the Red Sox back last season was their lack of good starting pitching. Their collective team ERA of 4.31 was 25th in all of baseball in 2015, with none of their starters having good, consistent years. Price, who spent the first six seasons of his career with Tampa before heading to Detroit in 2014 and the Blue Jays for the second half of 2015, holds a 3.09 ERA and went 18-5 with a 2.45 ERA last season alone. He will definitely prove to be a bettsbogaertsvaluable addition.

On the flip side of things, the Sox offense was somewhat under the radar decent. They were able to post a .265 team average on the year, which tied them for fifth best in all of baseball. If their additions of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval from last offseason can have bounce back seasons, combined with further contributions from their young stars Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., as well as veterans Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, they could have a special season.

With David Ortiz already announcing that he will be retiring after the 2016 season, it should be interesting to see how the Red Sox perform next year. They have a few more things that need to be addressed to help their club overall for next season, but I like the signing of Price, as well as the pickup of Craig Kimbrel earlier this offseason, and the general direction that those moves take them.

No matter what happens, acquiring David Price for the next seven years is sure to make for some exciting seasons to come up in Boston.

Keuchel and Arrieta Win Cy Young Award

The Cy Young award — named after the Hall of Fame pitcher who died in 1955 — was first handed out in 1956 to Don Newcombe, with the goal of recognizing the “most valuable pitcher” from each season. The first eleven years of the award saw one pitcher per year receiving the honor, but in 1967 the Cy Young began being handed out to a pitcher from each league who was voted on as the best from the season.

Voting for the award is fairly straightforward.

Two writers from each city of both the American League and National League make up the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) voters for the Cy Young award, making a total of thirty voters for each league (fifteen teams, with two voters per city). A first place vote earns a player seven points, a second place vote gets four points, a third place vote receives three points, a fourth place vote is worth two points, with a fifth place vote earning a single point. Once added up, the player with the highest overall total wins.

The 2015 Major League Baseball Cy Young award winners for both the American League and National League were announced Wednesday night on MLB Network. Here are the winners, along with my thoughts on each:

AMERICAN LEAGUE CY YOUNG

Original Pick: David Price

Finalists: Sonny Gray, Dallas Keuchel and David Price

Winner: Dallas Keuchel

Thoughts On Dallas Keuchel Winning

Things couldn’t have been any closer statistically between Dallas Keuchel and David Price. Keuchel posted a 2.45 ERA on the season compared to Price’s 2.48 mark; Keuchel won 20 games, while Price netted 18; Price won in the strikeoutDallas Keuchel race, but only by a total of nine punchouts. To make a long story short, their seasons were nearly identical.

Because of the close race, I unsuccessfully picked Price to win, but Keuchel ultimately had a slight edge by pitching 232 innings that included three complete games and two shutouts.

In addition, Keuchel set the record for most games won at home in a single season without a single loss, with 15 (the previous record was 13). For those reasons, the end result wasn’t as close as many had predicted.

Dallas Keuchel won the Cy Young award fairly easily, receiving 22 of the 30 first place votes for a total of 186 points, with David Price coming in second with 143 points and 8 first place votes, and Sonny Gray coming in third with a total of 82 points.

The season Dallas Keuchel had was inarguably unbelievable, and it should be very interesting to see if he can keep it up moving forward. Keuchel becomes the first Astros pitcher to win the Cy Young award since 2004, when Roger Clemens won the honor.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CY YOUNG

Original Pick: Jake Arrieta

Finalists: Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw

Winner: Jake Arrieta

Thoughts On Jake Arrieta Winning

As close as the American League Cy Young race was, the National League side of things was even closer. With Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw all having terrific seasons in vastly different ways, it was difficult to pick between them for who was most deserving.Arrieta

Even so, it was Arrieta who wound up winning the National League Cy Young award. While Greinke’s 1.66 ERA was unfathomable, and Kershaw continued his dominance with 301 strikeouts, Arrieta did something in the second half of the season that I feel truly put him over the top in the Cy Young voting.

Following the All-Star game, Arrieta went on a stretch never before matched in the history of the game. Arrieta posted a mere 0.75 ERA over the entire second half of the season, bringing his ERA down to 1.77 on the year, and ultimately was a big factor in the Cubs making the postseason.

Jake Arrieta got 17 total first place votes for a collective 169 points, barely beating out Zack Greinke’s 147 points including 10 first place selections, and Clayton Kershaw who received three first place votes of his own but finished third with 101 points.

The fifth Cubs pitcher to ever win the award, and the first since Greg Maddux in 1992, Arrieta continues the Cubs’ offseason award winning streak. With Kris Bryant winning the Rookie of the Year and Joe Maddon picking up the Manager of the Year award, the Cubs become the first team with three major award winners since the Mariners in 2001.

With this year’s Cy Young award race being the closest it has been in years, it makes everyone around the baseball world begin to look ahead to the 2016 season. The best teams are usually the ones with great pitching, and it should be fun to see how Dallas Keuchel and Jake Arrieta, and their respective teams, do in 2016 and beyond.

Recap of My Votes for the 2015 MLB Major Awards

Over the past week, or so, I’ve been typing up individual posts on who I feel most deserves the awards of American League and National League Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player. I was planning to post the awardsAwards for each on back to back days, with a day in between, but I decided to publish them on six consecutive days instead.

Some of the choices were easy, while others took a great deal of debate. But in the end, I went with my gut of who I feel deserves each award the most.

In case you missed a few (or all) of my Major League Baseball award posts, I wanted to do a brief recap. Although there are a couple of picks that people will likely disagree with, this is just the way I would vote if my vote had any say.

Here are my picks that I made for each category:

American League Rookie of the Year: Carlos Correa

National League Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant

American League Cy Young: David Price

National League Cy Young: Jake Arrieta

American League MVP: Josh Donaldson

National League MVP: Bryce Harper

Feel free to click the links associated with each award to be taken to my post on it, giving the full reasoning behind my picks. I’m planning to post a blog entry covering the winners of each award when they’re announced towards the middle of next month, comparing my original picks to the winners and giving my overall thoughts, so be sure to check back for that when the time arrives.

My Vote for 2015 A.L. Cy Young Award

Each year there are usually several pitchers from each league that have incredible seasons, making it difficult to choose between them for who most deserves the Cy Young award. This year is no different. The American League saw Chris Sale, Chris Archer, Dallas Keuchel and David Price all having great seasons. However, in the end, only one player can take home the Cy Young award.Price

Chris Sale had a terrific year, setting the all-time strikeout record for a White Sox pitcher with 274, but he is the least likely to win it of the players on this list. Despite his amazing strikeout number, Sale’s 3.41 ERA barely broke the top 10 in the American League, and therefore won’t give him the Cy Young.

On the other hand, Chris Archer does in fact have a chance. Admittedly, it’s a small chance, but his number deserve recognition. Archer posted a 3.23 ERA this season over the course of 34 starts and struck out a respectable 252 batters, giving him true Ace status for the Rays. Even so, this isn’t the year he wins the top pitching award in my mind.

It comes down to David Price and Dallas Keuchel for me, with either one having a strong case for the award. In the end, though, I had to just pass on Keuchel. Although he had an amazing year for the Astros, helping them make the playoffs, he didn’t quite have the numbers, even with his 2.48 ERA.

For me, the difficult but correct choice for the 2015 American League Cy Young award — and likely controversial selection — is the Blue Jays’ star pitcher, David Price. While Price wasn’t overly dominant all season long, his 2.45 ERA was the lowest of his career. While things are going to be very close between Price and Keuchel, I just have to give it to Price, who was a big part of the Blue Jays’ squad this season.

Blue Jays Headed for Playoff Run?

At the beginning of the season, I didn’t see the Blue Jays doing much of anything in 2015. In fact, I had the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles all finishing ahead of them in the standings. But it seems that I will turn out to be very wrong when all is said and done.

The Jays currently sit second in the American League East, just behind the surprisingly dominant Yankees by four and a half games. As recently as a week ago, Toronto was six games back of first, and two out of the American League wild card. MLB: Kansas City Royals at Toronto Blue JaysNow, after a terrific recent stretch of games that includes a four game winning streak to date, the Jays are in line to make the playoffs for the first time since 1993 when they won the World Series.

When the season kicked off in April, the Blue Jays were given a 27 percent chance of making the playoffs, but now they sit at a respectable 65 percent. The remaining schedule the Jays have left isn’t a cakewalk by any means, but if the Jays can continue their hot streak things could get very interesting down the road.

Although the Jays were already having a decent year before the trade deadline, a big reason for their recent run can somewhat be attributed to their acquisition of Troy Tulowitzki and David Price.

With Tulo in the lineup, the Jays take a dangerous middle of the order and turn it into a dangerous entire lineup from the very first pitch. Likewise, Price adds depth to their rotation, and should be able to help power their team forward as the year progresses.

No matter whether or not the Blue Jays end up making the playoffs — after all, there is close to two months still remaining — just the idea of it is enough to excite the fans around Toronto and around the baseball world in general. But if things continue to roll for the Jays and they make it into October, they could turn out to be a very formidable team to take on in a playoff series where anything can happen.