Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Bud Norris bandwagon is getting crowded

This time, a nice little scouting report from ESPN:

Bud Norris, SP, Astros: Norris, a 24-year-old who was drafted in the sixth round in 2006, put himself on my radar screen with a dazzling effort as a reliever in the 2008 Arizona Fall League, showing a three-pitch mix that one front-office NL executive told me "was the best stuff I've seen from a reliever at the AFL in the last five years."

Norris, a 6-foot right-hander whose stocky build has him being compared to Ben Sheets, has tree trunks for legs and good arm action. He has been a starter virtually his entire pro career, including 19 outings at Double-A last year, where he posted a 4.05 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 80 innings even though he missed two months of the season with an elbow injury. But working in relief in the AFL, he dialed up his fastball to 95-97 mph, and also showed a high-80s slider with short, late break and a mid-80s changeup that flashed plus at times, dropping off the table.

He's working as a starter at Triple-A Round Rock this season, and has posted a 2.55 ERA in nine starts, with 54 strikeouts in 53 innings, although he also has walked 29 batters. I took a trip to Sacramento last week to watch him against the A's farm club, eager to see what he looked like when he wasn't working in one-inning stints.

As a starter, Norris' fastball has been dialed down to 91-94 mph, and he can work it on both sides of the plate. Though he still had that short strike-zone bite on his 85-88 mph slider, he had trouble throwing it for strikes. He again flashed good changeups in the 81-84 mph range, but he loses the feel for it at times and leaves it up.

Norris is aggressive but tends to rush his delivery. He needs to repeat it better, as his lack of command at this juncture of his career is exposed more as a starter. He also needs to throw more strikes, as he has been running up his pitch counts early in games. However, the command is a bigger concern than the control at this point. He needs more "pitchability" and feel.

The bottom line is I still like Norris more as a potential shutdown closer in the ninth than as a starter, although he certainly has gotten results in the starting rotation thus far. Norris has nasty stuff, with great movement on his secondary pitches, but his command of them still has a way to go. His live arm is certainly one to watch.

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