There's a reason that people are applauding Dave Dombrowski today. The Tigers' president and general manager orchestrated yet another blockbuster deal at the MLB trade deadline, shipping David Price to Toronto for a haul of prospects. The players, all left-handed pitchers, are Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, and Jairo Labourt.
By now you have probably heard all about Norris' minimalist lifestyle and his Grade-A character, but what will we get from him on the field? Why are many Blue Jays fans also lamenting the loss of Matt Boyd? Who in the world is Jairo Labourt?
A 22-year-old lefthander who was drafted out of high school in 2011, Norris put together a couple of pedestrian seasons before a meteoric rise through the Blue Jays' minor league system in 2014. He began the 2014 season at High-A Dunedin, where he went 6-0 with a 1.23 ERA and 4.22 strikeouts-to-walk ratio in 13 starts. The Jays moved him up to Double-A for eight starts, then Triple-A for four more before calling him up to the majors in September. Norris' ERA wasn't quite so spectacular above A-ball, but he struck out 91 batters in just 65 innings after leaving Dunedin.
The huge season wowed prospect evaluators, who rewarded him with some high praise prior to this season. Baseball America named Norris the 18th-best prospect in baseball, while MLB.com put him at No. 17. ESPN's Keith Law also had him in the top 20, at No. 18. Norris made the Blue Jays' roster out of spring training, but was demoted to the minor leagues after just five starts. Norris held opponents to a 3.86 ERA, but was walking too many batters for Toronto's liking. His command issues have continued at Triple-A Buffalo, as he has walked over four batters per nine innings.
While the command is currently an issue, Norris has plenty of potential. John Moore of Minor League Ball outlined both projected and realistic future roles for the promising lefty.
He has a four pitch mix including a fastball, slider, curve and change-up. For me the fastball, curve and slider all have plus potential, while the change-up lags slightly behind. He is very nearly major league ready, but the command needs a little work. If everything comes together for Norris, he could potentially become a number two starter, but more realistically he's a number three starter. Norris is now the number one prospect in the Tigers farm system.
Norris' fastball averaged 92 miles per hour in his five starts with the Blue Jays this season, and has gotten as high as 96 miles per hour in his major league career. Mark Anderson of TigsTown ($) rated Norris' slider as the best of his three secondary pitches, with the curveball and changeup currently lagging behind. Norris' changeup has induced the highest whiff rate of any of his pitches in the major leagues so far, but in a very small sample of 30 career innings.
FanGraphs' Kiley McDaniel pointed out that Norris' command issues stem from inconsistencies in his delivery.
...command that’s solid average at its best, but still below average too often right now to be a big-league contributor. The cause appears to be Norris’ delivery and more specifically his direction to the plate and consistent syncing of the delivery, with which he’s made a lot of progress since his high school days. I’ve never been a fan of a locking knee and crossfire elements unless they’re absolutely necessary, so hopefully Detroit can help him make the necessary adjustments to hit his ceiling of a #2/3 starter.
The Tigers have successfully ironed out mechanical issues in the past -- Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez are prime examples -- but it may take some time before we see it translate to Norris' results. ESPN's Keith Law noted a dip in Norris' fastball velocity in recent starts, which should be monitored closely. Norris has the stuff to get major league hitters out now, but will probably walk far too many batters for our liking down the stretch in 2015. If he can develop more consistency in his delivery and a bit more fastball command, he should be a valuable rotation piece for years to come.
The oldest member of the group at 24, Boyd has opened some eyes this year. A sixth round pick out of Oregon State in 2013, Boyd moved quickly through Toronto's farm system. He split time between High-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire in 2014, allowing a 3.17 ERA with a 4.45 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 133 1/3 innings. His ERA split was considerable, though, as he allowed a 6.96 ERA in 10 Double-A starts last season.
Bluebird Banter named him the organization's 15th-best prospect heading into the 2015 season, where he was still considered a fringy bet to even reach the major leagues.
Boyd doesn't blow anyone away, throwing a low-90's fastball along with a changeup and breaking ball although none of the pitches are considered dominant and a reliever role may be in his future. He should start the season in New Hampshire looking to right his wrongs from last season and continue his climb through the minor league system.
Boyd responded by allowing a 1.10 ERA in 12 starts at the Double-A level, prompting a quick promotion to Triple-A. Boyd made two starts there before getting called up to the majors, where he made a pair of starts for the Blue Jays. He struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings in his debut, but was rocked for seven runs before even recording an out in his next start. In six starts for Triple-A Buffalo, Boyd has a 2.77 ERA and 6.17 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The strikeout-to-walk ratio is very intriguing, and may be due to a recent (and surprising) uptick in his overall arsenal. FanGraphs' Kiley McDaniel led the charge on Boyd's rising prospect status by dropping this nugget in an article back in June.
Just talked to a scout that saw him a few weeks back. His velo jumped this year from 88-92 t94 to 91-94 t96 and the solid average off-speed is now above average, sometimes flashing better. He signed for 75K as a senior from Oregon State who had his velo bump as a senior, then again two years later. Basically unprecedented as far as I know. He’s at least a high 45 FV now, probably closer to 50 FV. When the scout was telling me what he saw, I made him repeat everything because it was so hard to believe.
TigsTown's Mark Anderson has only laid eyes on the lower velocity profile so far, and is tepid in his overall projection of the 24-year-old lefty.
Boyd is a better pitcher than the Farmer/Ryan types, doesn't have the secondaries with quality like Lobstein, but as third piece he's fine.— Mark Anderson (@ProspectMark) July 30, 2015
Minor League Ball's Ezra Jones also caught wind of Boyd's upward trend, and is easily the most optimistic on Boyd's future potential.
Many saw Boyd as a finesse back end starter at the beginning of the season, but as his fastball has progressed and his numbers continue to be stellar, I see him as, if all works out, a solid #3 starter. Boyd has good composure on the mound and has very good control and command, walking few and striking out many. He does give up fly balls easily, especially when he leaves his change-up up in the zone, as just over 40% of the batted balls he gave up were fly balls.
A fly ball pitcher will fare much better in Detroit than in Toronto, so this profile doesn't concern me one bit. I don't know if Boyd will make the quantum leap that some are expecting, but there is a lot to like about a strike-throwing left-handed pitcher that is walking just 5.6 percent of the batters he faces. If the uptick in fastball velocity is real, the Tigers could have a steal on their hands. We will see Boyd in Detroit at some point this season, and he should compete for a rotation spot in 2016.
If we're grading these three players on pure upside, Labourt slots in between Norris and Boyd. At 6'4", 205 pounds, the 21-year-old Dominican looks the part of a major league starting pitcher. Labourt has progressed slowly through the minors, as most international free agent signees do. He struggled in his full-season debut in 2014, allowing 10 runs in 14 innings at Single-A Lansing. The Blue Jays demoted him to extended spring training, then sent him to short-season Vancouver, where he allowed a 1.77 ERA in 15 starts while striking out over a batter per inning.
Labourt moved up to Advanced-A ball in 2015, and the results have been a bit iffy. He has a 4.80 ERA in 19 starts, including his debut with the Lakeland Flying Tigers on Friday. In 84 1/3 innings, he has 75 strikeouts to 48 walks, and has thrown 13 wild pitches.
Minor League Ball's John Moore gave a brief snippet on Labourt's arsenal after the trade, and the velocity shows why the Tigers were interested in him.
Labourt is left-handed and has a massive frame (listed at 6'4", 204). He throws a fastball, slider and a change-up. The fastball is clearly his best offering (he worked 94-97 with it in the Futures Game earlier this month), but the slider and change-up both have the potential be be above average offerings at the major league level. The control looks to be an issue and he needs to work on repeating his delivery a little better.
The lack of strikeouts this season is a bit surprising given what sounds like an electric arsenal, but his iffy command appears to be the main issue. Fangraphs' Kiley McDaniel also points out a potential reason for Labourt's big struggles in Lansing last year, but is still very optimistic about the overall profile.
His command still wavers and he falls in love with his velo at times, along with other typical kid stuff, like not hiding the fact that he didn’t like the cold in Low-A Lansing and short-season Vancouver. Sometimes this sort of prospect never figures it out and becomes a 7th/8th-inning reliever and sometimes everything clicks, he loses the bad weight and turns into the terror that he shows in glimpses now...There’s #3 starter upside and it could all come together at any time, but there’s still some stuff on which the Tigers development will have to work with a talent that would’ve easily been a 1st rounder this past year when comparing him to his peers (college juniors).
Unlike the other two pitchers in this trade, Labourt is still a few years away from the majors. His raw talent is enticing, though, and Labourt offers upside that is sparse throughout the rest of the Tigers' system. He is still a top-10 prospect in this system, as any semblance of fastball command could turn him into a late-innings major league reliever. There are still a lot of questions about his changeup and command, both of which need to improve if he is going to become a starter.
#BlueJays LHP Jairo Labourt is talented but erratic. Struggles repeating mechanics, poor FB command. Telegraphs CHG badly. SL is pot + pitch— Jeff Moore (@jeffmooreBP) July 18, 2015
On Labourt, I have a lengthy history dating back to 2012; FB and SL have progressed very well, but CH lags along with control. Project.— Mark Anderson (@ProspectMark) July 30, 2015
With the added pitching depth now in the high minors, the Tigers have plenty of time to mold Labourt as a starter. He's one to keep track of down on the farm.