Fortunately for him, his numbers speak for themselves.
The hard-throwing righty reliever has established himself as someone to watch in the Yankees organization, thanks to a hot and, most importantly, healthy start to his season in Double-A Trenton.
In 11 appearances out of the Thunder bullpen, Norton has racked up 22 strikeouts in just 15 2/3 innings of work, and has held the opposition to a miniscule .130 batting average against while posting an equally impressive WHIP of just 0.83, which leads the team among pitchers who have thrown 10 or more innings. Norton throws a slider and a still-developing changeup, but his fastball is unquestionably his best pitch. Then again, it always has been.
“I guess when I was around 14, (I realized) I just kind of had a little bit better of an arm than the average kid. I could always throw a little harder,” Norton said.
“There’s plenty of guys who throw as hard as I do now, but growing up, I was always the guy who could throw it a little harder.”
Norton has been known to touch 96 MPH on the radar gun with a heavy fastball that simply has Eastern League hitters overmatched on most nights.
“He’s had some nights where I think he can get some big leaguers out. He shows that kind of stuff,” says Thunder pitching coach Tommy Phelps.
“He has a mid 90’s fastball that he can move in and out, and he elevates when he wants to. He’s fun to watch, I can’t wait for him to get out there on the nights he pitches.”
Eastern League hitters certainly don’t agree. But for Trenton’s Austin Romine, Norton’s been a pleasure to catch so far this season.
“He has big league stuff,” Romine said.
“He has the fastball, he has the slider, he throws changeups, he’s got the stuff. The slider’s very tight and has got some depth on it, and he throws his fastball wherever he wants. If he can hone in on that pinpoint accuracy, I couldn’t see why he wouldn’t be there.”
Thing is, time isn’t on Norton’s side. This season marked the first time in his six-year professional career that the former seventh round pick out of UConn has broken camp healthy and ready to pitch. With his 28th birthday just 13 days away, Norton is unquestionably old for Double-A, the victim of a series of injuries that have limited him to just 110 2/3 innings pitched over the past five seasons combined. The clock, Norton says, is ticking.
“It’s always ticking. Every day, I feel it,” he said. “It’s either now or never. I have no choice, it’s just go up there and compete as hard as I can. If it happens, it happens.”
“It,” of course, is the big leagues. Norton said he feels that wearing Yankee pinstripes by the end of the season is a realistic goal, and it’s hard to argue with him given his performance so far this season. But, as Josh Schmidt can attest to, performance doesn’t always dictate what level you’re at in the system. There are, as of now, no open spots in the Triple-A bullpen. Norton will just have to force his way up there and create an opening instead.
“He’s having some success,” said Thunder manager Tony Franklin.
“And I think the amount of success you have kind of opens people’s eyes and dictates that. If they’re looking to make a move, he’s probably one of the guys they’re going to look at.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com