LAKELAND, Fla. -- Don't let the shaggy beard, the van and the quirky personality fool you. Daniel Norris wants to be known as a pitcher, and a good one at that, one that can help the Tigers weather what is expected to be a tough season.He's a unique personality, but
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Don't let the shaggy beard, the van and the quirky personality fool you. Daniel Norris wants to be known as a pitcher, and a good one at that, one that can help the Tigers weather what is expected to be a tough season.
He's a unique personality, but in the end, he's a young pitcher trying to realize his potential. This Spring Training could be critical in that regard.
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"The time is now for me to kind of figure it out and go," Norris said last month. "They're not going to wait. Nobody wants to wait years and years and years."
Talent-wise, the organizational opinion on Norris hasn't changed much from the day he arrived in the David Price trade nearly three years ago. Detroit still sees him as a starter with great potential. At the same time, the team isn't going to hand him a rotation spot on potential alone, even at this stage of a rebuilding project.
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While the Tigers are all-in on their rebuild, they don't have as many jobs up for grabs as a club in such a situation usually does. The back end of their rotation might be the most intriguing battle of camp. While Norris has had stretches where he has looked the part of a future star, and fellow lefty Matthew Boyd came within an out of a no-hitter last September, neither has a rotation spot guaranteed.
Ideally, both pitchers will be part of the Tigers' rotation when the season opens on March 29, but they're going to have to compete for it. Detroit added Ryan Carpenter and Travis Wood not just for depth, but to challenge for a spot on the staff. The team is also allowing Alex Wilson, a former starter in the Red Sox farm system who became a versatile reliever in Detroit, to compete as a starter for the same purpose.
None carry the upside of Boyd or Norris, though Carpenter's success at Triple-A Albuquerque last year makes him intriguing. But it's up to Boyd and Norris to show their upside over the next six weeks.
Neither Boyd nor Norris are strangers to rotation battles. Boyd beat out Anibal Sanchez for the final spot in the Tigers rotation last spring before early-season struggles landed him at Triple-A Toledo in June. Norris and Boyd battled with then-starter Shane Greene for the same rotation spot two years ago before Norris landed on the disabled list with back issues, one of a few injuries that have dogged him over the last couple years.
If Norris can stay healthy, he believes he can succeed. His success in healthy stretches convinces him of that. To that end, he spent part of his offseason working out at Peak Performance Project to pick up training techniques to avoid the disabled list.
"I just need to be healthy," Norris said. "There's obviously going to be ups and downs in a season as far as performance, but when you're hurt, it's a big road block there and you don't have the time to work on things."
Likewise, Boyd continued his offseason program designed by Driveline Baseball.
"For me, I'm not going down there to try to hit 98 [mph] this year," Boyd said. "Where my [velocity] is, I'm happy with that. What's going to bring me success is completing my mechanics, being in control of myself and locating all four of my pitches wherever I want to. That's been my goal, to do the program with that kind of mindset."
Both still have age on their side. Norris doesn't turn 25 until April; Boyd turned 27 a couple weeks ago. The urgency for them to make it comes from the crop of young pitchers on the way, the group of prospects expected to help form the next Tigers rotation. They're not on the doorstep yet, though top Draft pick Alex Faedo is in big league camp on a non-roster invite. But by season's end, Beau Burrows and Franklin Perez could be approaching the door, and Faedo might not be far behind.
"I know that a lot of people tend to compare me to the Danny Duffys and [Carlos] Carrascos, guys that took a little time to figure it out, even [Corey] Kluber," Norris said. "All those guys didn't really figure it out until they were 27 years old, but I don't want to wait that long, and I don't think the team wants to wait that long. The time is now, and I really think it's going to be a big year."
What Norris and Boyd do this year could make the difference between whether they are complementing them in the Tigers rotation, or succeeding them. A strong Spring Training would be a good starting point.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.