In an effort to find to bring a new angle to the routine nature of season previews, last year New English D ran a season preview series based on the team’s nine most pivotal players. We be called the series “2016 Bellwethers,” broke down the players whose 2016 direction would indicate where the Tigers were heading. Due to a solid response, the series is back for 2017. Keep in mind this is not a series about the most important Tigers, but rather the Tigers with the widest range of possible outcomes. You won’t see Miguel Cabrera featured, for example, because of his steady dominance of the league. Enjoy. | #9: James McCann and Alex Avila | #8: Victor Martinez | #7: Whoever Plays Center Field |#6: Jose Iglesias | #5 Jordan Zimmermann
Up to this point, Bellwethers #9 to #5 have been players who didn’t perform as well as they could have in 2016. The question for them has been if they can fix a flaw, get healthy, or find some consistency. The question for #4 is very different. Daniel Norris is not technically a prospect anymore, but for all intents and purposes he is. He will turn 24 in April and has just 136 MLB innings to his name.
If you just look at the stat sheet, you would probably assume Norris got a late season look in 2015 and spent some time in the minors last year getting ready for his official call-up. The story is a little more complicated given his health issues and injury problems last year. If he had been healthy from the get go, he probably would have made 25 or more starts, but the same general line of reasoning will hold up. Norris is young and hasn’t been turned loose during a full season. He should get that chance in 2017.
And there’s a lot to like about Norris. While his command was iffy coming up through the minors, he’s made strides in that department and if you can strikeout 9+ batters per nine innings, a slightly elevated walk rate won’t be an issue. He’s given up a few too many dingers in his major league work, but it’s a small sample as well. He’s mostly a blank canvass. Norris is on this list because he’s one guy who I think could dramatically exceed his 2016 contributions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not betting the farm on it, but Norris gave the Tigers around a win of value last year. If things go reasonably well, he might give them three wins, and that would be a nice shot in the arm. But Norris is also the only player on the roster who might give the team four or five more wins than he did last year. He’s the high upside.
Norris has the makings of a front-line starter. He has the size and velocity from the left side and his secondary stuff flashes above average. There’s a big leap from what he actually did last year and 5+ win pitcher, but you can see the building blocks if he puts it together.
In particular, I wrote last September about Norris moving from a traditional slider toward a cutter, something Justin Verlander has done as well. There’s way too little data to know if the cutter is an improvement overall, but it’s different and different is always interesting.
Norris has the potential to change the conversation in a way that virtually no other Tiger can. I’m very high on Matt Boyd and there is presumably still an ace hidden in Anibal Sanchez, but Norris is the one who I believe could be the most decisive. If he’s healthy, he’ll still probably be on an innings limit because his high water mark is about 150. The Tigers won’t push him too far beyond 180 in 2017, but there’s a chance for a lot of value in those innings.
I’m not saying I think Norris will be a 5-6 win pitcher, just that it’s a plausible outcome. It’s more likely he’s a 2-3 win pitcher and the Tigers would be perfectly happy to get that upside. But if Norris can offer the 2016 strikeout rate with a lower home run rate, he might wind up giving them a whole lot more.