Game 159, Mariners at Blue Jays
Tom Wilhelmsen vs. Daniel Norris, 1:07pm
The A’s continue to slide, but it’s too late now. A fifth consecutive loss has apparently allowed the M’s to go with a bullpen day today, and with the stakes even lower for the Jays, they’ll do the same. Wilhelmsen could conceivably pitch 3-4 innings, but it sounds like the Jays will limit Daniel Norris, one of their big prospects, to 2-3.
Norris was never an afterthought – as a 2nd rounder in 2011, and the highest draft pick to actually sign with Toronto (they couldn’t get Tyler Beede under contract) – but he’s never been a top-100 prospect, and was ranked below fireballers Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard. Sanchez battled spotty results, command issues and so-so strikeout rates, but stayed atop the Jays’ prospect lists thanks to a high-octane fastball. Syndergaard was traded to the Mets, while Stroman rocketed up the ladder and enjoyed a breakout season for Toronto this year. The point is: Norris was never the #1 pitching prospect for Toronto, but that’s not to say he was unheralded. In fact, many would probably slot him in ahead of Sanchez at this point thanks to his astonishing 2014 season. In 124 2/3 IP this year, the lefty’s struck out 163, while walking 43. He doesn’t have a 70-grade fastball, but that clearly didn’t slow him down.
Depending on who you ask, Norris’ best pitch is a big breaking curve ball (a pitch he K’d David Ortiz on in his first big league appearance), a slider, or a change-up. Fangraphs says curve, MLB goes for the change, and BP’s repeatedly called attention to his slider. The slider gives him a weapon against lefties, while he uses the change vs. righties. In his 3+ inning career thus far, he’s thrown far more change-ups than breaking balls, which may be because he’s faced a couple more RH bats. Early in his career, he had serious command problems, and he was getting hammered well into 2013 because of them. Since then, he’s been death on a stick to righties in particular, so it certainly looks like getting a feel for his change-up was the key to his success.
His fastball sits in the low 90s, with the change in the mid-80s. The change looks a bit like a splitter, with heavy, heavy sink and little armside run. His fastball’s got a lot of “rise,” and the curve ranges from the low- to mid/high-70s. If that arsenal sounds familiar, it should – that sounds a bit like Taijuan Walker. Walker’s right-handed and throws a bit harder, obviously – seeing him hit 98 yesterday was pretty cool – but he too has a big, slow curve and that new and nasty split/change. Their fastballs have very similar movement as well.
Tom Wilhelmsen seems to have the stuff to start, and he has basically no platoon splits. He hasn’t been great as a starter in the high-minors, and he wasn’t sharp in a spot-start this year. There’s no clear reason for it, so it’s easy to chalk it up to sample size, but if the M’s want to get a look at Wilhelmsen in the rotation, they need to do more than give him spot starts on bullpen days. After another great year in the ‘pen, I’m fine if they want to leave him alone and hope he can remain an effective set-up man, but I understand the temptation to squeeze more value out of him.
1: Jackson, CF
2: Taylor, SS
3: Cano, DH
4: Morales, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, LF
7: Saunders, RF
8: Zunino, C
9: Miller, 2B
Interesting line-up today.
M’s are three behind Oakland for the 2nd wild card with four games to play. Oakland’s in Texas to take on the Rangers (Jason Hammel vs. Colby Lewis), while the Royals are in Chicago facing the White Sox (James Shields vs. Jose Quintana).