Detroit Tigers: Why Daniel Norris Will Take the Fifth Spot
The Detroit Tigers have at least seven young pitchers battling for the coveted fifth spot in the starting rotation. And only one man will fill it.
Those battling for the spot include top prospect Michael Fulmer as well as Drew VerHagen, Kyle Ryan, Matt Boyd, Shane Greene, and Jeff Ferrell. Their fight for the spot is noble, but not realistic – not this year. The fifth spot will be given to Daniel Norris.
Starting pitchers, even the fifth one, need have measurable skills, and they need to have a number of intangibles. Norris has it all.
The 22-year-old pitcher has proven that he can pitch. In 2014 and 2015, he pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tigers. His ERA was 3.92 in his 18 games. His 1.500 WHIP in Toronto dropped to a 1.009 in Detroit. He allowed 10 home runs and he struck out 49 in those two seasons.
He also proved that he can hit, especially against the Chicago Cubs. In his only NL game in 2015, he hit a home run in Wrigley Field. He earned two RBis and a .500 batting average.
Norris can also field his position. To date, he has not committed any errors in the major league. He has three put-outs, ten assists, and he has turned one double play.
His skills are there, especially considering his young age. He will be 23 in April.
But what makes Daniel Norris worthy of the fifth spot is not just his ability to pitch, field, and hit; it is his maturity and character on and off the field. He has the personality and drive to be the face of an MLB franchise. During the short time that Norris pitched in Toronto, he quickly turned heads with his alternative lifestyle and refreshing personality.
After a few rounds on the mound in Detroit, Norris landed on the disabled list with an oblique strain. This unfortunate event in his outstanding game in August against the Cubs knocked him out for a two weeks. When he returned, it was obvious that he struggled. He had a horrible outing against the Texas Rangers facing 13 batters in 1.2 innings. But, he recovered nicely in the last game of the season against the White Sox where he faced 17 batters in five innings.
The reason for his dip in the fall was revealed when he announced that he was battling thyroid cancer. He had a successful surgery to remove the tumor. Since then, he has been working out to earn that fifth spot. Now in Lakeland, he is ready to go having already thrown a few bullpen sessions and having a few laughs with Justin Verlander and Alex Wilson.
Norris’s cancer fight is one reason that he has quickly endeared himself to his teammates and fans, but there is more to him that draws people to him. He is active on social media, engaging with teammates (especially fellow pitchers) and with fans. His down-to-earth attitude, love of nature, and soulful living has made him a fast fan-favorite. (The VW Bus helps, too).
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Of course being on social media and having a fetching personality does not make one a great pitcher, but it does draw fans. And, since baseball is a business, pitchers like Daniel Norris benefit from sharing their personalities on and off the field. Mike Ilitch and Al Avila know that they have a future star in Norris and the last thing they are going to do is hide him in the minor leagues. The six other pitchers that want that fifth spot should take a few notes.
Expect to see him pitching on April 10 against the New York Yankees.