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Minor League Barometer: Norris has New Lease on Life

Jesse Siegel

Jesse Siegel

Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Prospects are flying up to the majors in recent days. How about the meteorically fast rise of Detroit Tigers pitcher Buck Farmer? Farmer started the season at Low-A, yet the 23-year-old hurler made his big-league debut this week due to a rash of injuries to the Detroit starting rotation. Meanwhile, Michael Taylor's breakout season for the Nats resulted in a surprisingly short, four-game stay at Triple-A; the 23-year-old was instead quickly called up to the majors and subsequently hit a home run in his first game in the bigs Tuesday. Rymer Liriano's successful return from Tommy John surgery resulted in his MLB premiere this week as well. Liriano slashed .291/.362/.473 with 14 home runs, 66 RBI and 20 steals in 115 games at Triple-A before his ascension.

Let's see who else could be on the verge of a promotion in this week's edition of "Three Strikes:"

1. The struggles of Phillies third baseman Cody Asche could mean that Maikel Franco's MLB debut is on the horizon. Asche is 1-for-his-last-14 and Franco has brought his average up to a respectable .244 with 10 home runs at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

2. It would be shocking not to see Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant on the MLB roster in September. Still, the Cubs may hold him back due to Arbitration issues. The Cubs have so much young talent, yet it remains to be seen how they will be able to keep all of their young studs.

3. With Trevor May coming off a recent call-up and two subsequently horrific outings, the Twins may soon opt to go with higher-ranked pitching phenom Alex Meyer. What is working against Meyer, however, is that he tossed just 78.1 innings last season due to injury, and he is already up to 114 innings in 2014. As a result, the Twinkies may instead wait until 2015 to unleash Meyer on the rest of the MLB.

With the end of the minor league season rapidly approaching, let's take a look at some more intriguing prospects before the year is through.

UPGRADE

Daniel Norris, P, TOR -
Norris is a prime example why you don't give up on a highly-touted prospect after just one bad year. 2012 was simply a nightmare for Norris, as he posted an absurd 8.44 ERA in the year following his second-round selection in the 2011 draft. However, he had respectable numbers in 2013 with a 3.97 ERA and 100:46 K:BB ratio, largely at High-A. He has been on fire in 2014, though, moving from High-A all the way to Triple-A for the Jays. Through three combined levels, a span of 108 innings, Norris has a 2.25 ERA and 135:36 K:BB ratio. His first start at Triple-A showed just how special the 21-year-old southpaw can be. Norris tossed six scoreless innings for Triple-A Buffalo, scattering two hits, walking one while striking out 10 batters. it remains to be seen if the Blue Jays will decide to use Norris for the stretch run as they have done with fellow pitching prospect Aaron Sanchez. Regardless, Norris will enter 2015 as one of the better pitching prospects in the game as well as a shot to make the starting rotation out of spring training.

Scott Schebler, OF, LAD -
Schebler has been on fire lately for Double-A Chattanooga. The 23-year-old outfielder is hitting .324 with six home runs, 12 RBI and one steal over his last 10 games for the Lookouts. That brings his overall numbers to .282/.365/.557 with 24 home runs, 65 RBI and 10 steals through 116 games. The Dodgers still have a huge glut of outfielders at the big-league level, as evidenced by the fact that stud prospect Joc Pederson has remained at Triple-A for the entire season despite fantastic statistics. Schebler wasn't making it to the majors this season anyway, though, and perhaps this offseason the Dodgers will unload the likes of Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and even Matt Kemp. With the outfield talent coming through the minors, Los Angeles might be able to afford such a cost-cutting move without any loss of production.

Greg Bird, 1B, NYY -
A stellar last 10 games has Bird back on the prospect map for the Bronx Bombers. The 21-year-old first baseman is batting .343 with four home runs over that span, including a two-homer game on August 6. Overall, the OBP machine is now hitting .280/.380467 with 10 home runs and 35 RBI through 84 games for Double-A Trenton. Bird's back issues appear to be behind him, and the recent power surge is obviously a welcome sign. With Mark Teixeira's inability to stay healthy, one has to wonder when the Yankees will look to Bird to come to their aid. It could be as soon as next season.

Manuel Margot, OF, BOS -
Margot was profiled a couple of months ago on the Barometer, and he has continued to impress. The 19-year-old has been surging over his last 10 games, hitting a robust .457 with two home runs, 10 RBI and four steals for Low-A Greenville. Margot is a speedster first and foremost, swiping 37 bags thus far in 2014. Still, the rest of his game appears to be coming along quite nicely as well. The athletic outfielder is batting a completely respectable .285/.354/.448 through 97 games with the Drive. He has also shown surprising pop, launching 10 home runs despite his 5-foot-11, 170-pound frame. He should crop up on many prospect lists heading into the 2015 campaign, and with a few more pounds of added muscle, could end up as a truly interesting power/speed combination outfielder.

CHECK STATUS

Victor Arano, P, LAD -
Fellow teenaged pitching prospect and LA Dodger Julio Urias gets most of the pub these days, and rightly so. Expectations and comparisons to Urias have almost become unfair, as his early success at such a young age is obviously the exception and not the rule. However, Arano is just 19 years old and holding his own for Low-A Great Lakes. The right-hander has a 4.03 ERA and 76:19 K:BB ratio through 82.2 innings for the Loons. While Arano's numbers aren't exactly earth-shattering, they are still extremely palatable for his age and league. Arano also happens to have a sturdier frame than Urias at 6-2, 200. Again, putting him the Urias category would not be wise, but he is far from organizational depth either. Keep his name filed away.

Ketel Marte, SS, SEA -
Some say that the emergence of Marte as a viable shortstop for the M's allowed them to cut the struggling Nick Franklin from their plans. Franklin was sent to Tampa Bay in the three-team deal involving David Price. Meanwhile, Marte was recently promoted to Triple-A after showing a superior ability to make contact at Double-A. Just 20, Marte hit .302 with two home runs, 46 RBI and 23 steals in 109 games for Double-A Jackson. Although he did draw just 19 walks, Marte only struck out 65 times. He is 4-for-8 through his first two games with Triple-A Tacoma. Marte will likely never have much power, but he is still young and already extremely advanced in his approach at the dish. Brad Miller and Chris Taylor are splitting time at short for the M's; Miller has struggled while Taylor has appeared in just 16 games thus far. Therefore, there is no guarantee either is a long-term solution at short, and as such Marte could figure into the mix as early as September.

Trey Michalczewski, OF, CHW -
A 19-year-old drafted in the seventh round last year straight out of high school in Oklahoma, Michalczewski put up some surprisingly decent numbers in his first shot at Low-A. Instead of struggling mightily, Trey hit .271/.345/.429 with 10 home runs, 70 RBI and six steals in 116 games for Low-A Kannapolis. The White Sox saw enough in Michalczewski to promote him to High-A Winston-Salem. It is worth noting that he fanned 140 times in 116 games, but not unexpected from a future power-hitter straight out of high school. Trey has a projectable frame at 6-3, 210, and can probably put on some muscle too. He can also switch-hit and is athletic as evidenced by his days of playing high school football as well. There's a lot to like with Michalczewski, but it would be prudent not to get carried away with his upside just yet either.

Mitch Nay, 3B, TOR -
Nay has been a difficult prospect to figure out. He was drafted out of high school under the assumption that his above-average raw power would translate into home runs. That has simply not materialized thus far in his brief professional career. In 2014, Nay has just three home runs in 114 games for Low-A Lansing. On the positive side, Nay has still knocked in 58 runs while also hitting .286 with a .341 OBP at this level as a 20-year-old. He has also been hot recently, batting .375 over his last 10 games for the Lugnuts. Patience is the operative word here, as it will likely take time for Nay's raw talent to turn into baseball skills. He remains mostly projection at this time despite being a relatively high draft pick in 2012.

DOWNGRADE

Joe Ross, P, SD -
For some reason, Ross still manages to get overlooked in an organization that is not exactly overflowing with pitching talent. Max Fried is the upside guy, and Matt Wisler is the closest top pitching prospect to the bigs. Or maybe it's because his older brother Tyson is in the current starting rotation for the Padres. Ross has been consistent, albeit unspectacular since being drafted in the first round in 2011. He has not shown top-flight strikeout stuff throughout his brief minor league career, though. For example, Ross has a 106:29 K:BB ratio through 121.2 innings this season between High-A and Double-A. His control has been stellar and he pitches to contact, leaving him with low walks but also a high amount of hits surrendered. Opposing batters are hitting .260 against the 21-year-old this season. Ross does induce an above-average amount of ground balls, but has not been as overpowering as hoped. Add in a current stint on the Disabled List, and Ross hasn't exactly lived up to expectations for San Diego. That's not to say he has been bad, nor that he can't still become a frontline starter since he is just 21 years of age. However, his star has not quite blossomed, at least not yet.

Hunter Harvey, P, BAL -
Harvey was being talked about as an elite prospect until he was shut down on July 30 due to a strained flexor mass in his pitching elbow. Although an MRI showed no ligament damage, Harvey did have inflammation in the elbow, and the possibility still exists that he could need Tommy John surgery. As for right now, though, the O's do not think Harvey will need to go under the knife. Still, Harvey will definitely miss the remainder of the 2014 campaign, and his injury should be monitored closely in dynasty leagues. Surgery would obviously stunt his projection route significantly. The 19-year-old had a 3.18 ERA and 106:33 K:BB ratio in 87.2 innings before being sidelined. Opposing batters were hitting just .209 against him.

Ben Lively, P, CIN -
Lively's overall outlook remains pretty stellar, but let this be a lesson to not judge a pitcher only on a smaller sample size at A-ball. After dominating High-A with a 2.28 ERA and 95:16 K:BB ratio in 79 innings, Lively has been much more pedestrian since the promotion to Double-A. In 50 innings, Lively has a 3.96 ERA. Perhaps more significantly, he has walked 30 batters over that span. Now Lively has still fanned 54 batters during that time period as well, and opposing batters are still flailing to the tune of a .202 BAA. Nevertheless, the K:BB ratio was obviously unsustainable from the High-A level, particularly the walks aspect. Lively also may not be as wild as he has been at Double-A thus far either, but after that initial stint in High-A many were ready to anoint the 22-year-old as the next Greg Maddux. Let's slow the hyperbole down a bit and see how Lively fares at the higher levels first. While he has certainly increased his stock a ton in 2014, his performance from here on out will be much better indicators of where he will end up once he hits the bigs.

Ryan McMahon, 3B, COL -
McMahon has come back down to earth after a scorching start to the season. Over his last 10 games, the 19-year-old is batting just .184 with 14 strikeouts. The Ks remain a concern for McMahon, who has fanned 130 times in 110 games for Low-A Asheville. It is also worth noting that McMahon had eight home runs in his first 57 at-bats of the season; he has seven dingers in his last 369 at-bats. Overall, McMahon still has adequate numbers; he is slashing .275/.344/.488 with 15 home runs, 92 RBI and six steals. The RBI production is particularly spectacular. However, the early reports that compared him to Kris Bryant or Joey Gallo may have been a bit premature.