Offseason Prospect Overview: James Norwood

James Norwood (by Stephanie Lynn)

James Norwood (by Stephanie Lynn)

Season Review

jamesnorwood

A hard throwing starter with limited control and secondaries when drafted in 2014, Norwood has improved both aspects since converting to reliever as a pro. Prior to 2018 he was still mostly an unrefined arm-strength only guy, but he managed to add another couple of ticks to his fastball this year, and more importantly both of his secondary pitches took a step forward. He now possesses three pitches capable of putting hitters away. These new skills propelled Norwood from AA to AAA, and even resulted in a couple of stints in the Majors. 

His walk rate is still an issue, and he still battles for consistency with his offspeed pitches, but Norwood has all the makings of late-inning, power reliever at the big league level. He has already gained some early buzz this spring. Norwood is at the forefront of the contingent of hard throwers that figure to compose the majority of the Iowa bullpen this year. Each of Norwood, Dillon Maples, Rowan Wick, Dakota Mekkes, and Duane Underwood, Jr. (depending on whether he is used as a starter or reliever) offer tantalizing ability but who gets the first opportunity in Chicago likely comes down to who is able to hone in on the strike zone early in the season.

Positives

He averages about 97-98 MPH on his fastball and is capable of touching 100. Velocity isn't the only thing it has going for it. Norwood also generates impressive arm side run, and at times will get good sinking action. It is possible he is mixing in some two-seamers, but it is tough to tell from the video. Regardless, Norwood can lean on his fastball in all situations as it is explosive enough to throw even in fastball counts.

He has tightened up his slider over the years. I was never very impressed with the pitch heading into 2018, but when he locates it to his glove side he is now getting a nice, late break on the pitch. What could set him up for MLB success though is Norwood has developed a third pitch, a split-change, that he battles some inconsistency with, but when he has the feel for it offers him a plus secondary. It sits in the high-80s and will drop off the table as it approaches the hitter. It can be a dangerous pitch for him though when he leaves it up in the zone.

Negatives

Control. His stuff gives him a margin for error that most pitchers don't enjoy, especially at the Minor League level, but the Majors is a whole different game. He won't be able to work around as many free passes and can't fall behind hitters with the same frequency. Norwood doesn't need precise command, especially if he can get ahead 0-1 in the count with regularity, but no matter how exceptional a pitcher's stuff is if he falls behind and then lays one over the middle of the plate he is going to get hit.

Summation

Norwood has the stuff to miss a lot of bats and become a high leverage reliever in the Majors. In terms of pure stuff, perhaps only Dillon Maples can rival him. His control and command issues are not as pronounced as what we see from Maples, but they have held Norwood back just the same. It won't take a major leap for Norwood to grab a full-time role in Chicago. If he does, I expect he will gradually work his way into a larger role. With the majority of the contracts in the Cubs bullpen coming up at the end of the year, Norwood is well positioned to take over for one of them in 2020, if not before.

2019 Outlook

There is a ton of competition in spring training for the final bullpen spots in Chicago. Norwood is as talented as any, but given he has two option years remaining and the club will likely want to keep as many arms as possible, I doubt he can work his way on to the Opening Day roster. He is almost certainly ticketed for Iowa where he can work on refining his command and consistency. The good news for Norwood is, because he is so talented, if he can show consistency in Iowa he is capable of forcing the Cubs hand. They'll make room for him if he figures things out.

Comments

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    The Cubs could sure use Norwood and I'm sure he knows it. Let's hope he can deliver, then we don't have to go and get another high priced reliever.

  • Norwood, Maples, Mekkes should be fun to watch. The next wave might be relief pitchers.

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    I know it is more fun to focus on getting TOR talent but not having to go out and sign relievers for $MM can help as well.

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