Welcome to the start of our 2011 MLB Draft coverage at Pinstripes Plus and the Scout.com Network! As was the case last year, I will be running a new interview with one of the best MLB draft prospects 2011 has to offer each Sunday and Wednesday up until June, and you can click here to find an up to date archive of them all.
As always, you can friend me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter to get notice of when the newest interviews are put up, as well as to contact me with any questions or comments you might have.
I look forward to bringing you a unique perspective on many of the biggest names in this draft, and hopefully you will have a better sense of who these guys are as both players and people afterwards. Enjoy, and again, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: I’ve seen you listed between 6’1”, 170 lbs and 6,2”, 180 lbs. Where do you currently check in?
Daniel Norris: Two summers ago I was 6’1”, 170 lbs, last summer I was a little over 6’2” and 180lbs, and now I’m more 6’3”, 185-190 lbs.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Is your weight gain a conscious effort or is it just you growing?
Daniel Norris: I’ve been growing – I come back from the summer and feel stronger – but I actually just lifted my first weight a couple of months ago. I’m just trying to get used to that, and I think it’s definitely helped me put on a little weight in my legs and strengthened my core and whatnot. I feel better than ever since I started doing all that stuff.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: So you are not one of those guys that has been in the gym for years? You made it to the top of the high school class on your raw talent?
Daniel Norris: I’m more of a guy that wants to do my work on the field. You know, I believe in practice. Like I said, I just lifted my first weight and that will help me a lot, but working on getting better through practice and focusing on fundamentals is what I’ve done the most.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you played any other sports growing up?
Daniel Norris: Yes, I played football through my junior season and basketball through my sophomore season. I decided to eradicate those from what I do, not because I was scared of getting hurt, but because I really wanted to get that extra baseball training rather than the cross-training football and basketball gave me. That cross-training did help a lot, but I wanted to make sure I got all my bullpens, and all that good stuff, in for this year.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What positions did you play in the other sports? Did you start?
Daniel Norris: In basketball I was a shooting-guard/small forward and I started on JV my sophomore year and saw a good amount of time with the varsity. For football I played quarterback and receiver on offense, and then defensive back on defense.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: When was the first time you realized you could do something with baseball?
Daniel Norris: You know, the best way I could answer that question for you is this: I figured out I could do something with it when I was growing up. At a very early age I was always outside hitting balls, throwing up ice cubes and hitting them, stuff like that. Mom would call me in for dinner and I’d refuse to go – I just have had this undying passion for baseball from an early age. My parents tell me stories of me being outside all day, diving for balls, throwing them off the wall, and when I think back and remember those things I think that’s what really kick-started me. The passion I have to play the game has continued to grow every year since.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Do you remember the first time you hit 90 MPH?
Daniel Norris: It was my freshman year, state tournament actually. I was throwing the first game and it was supposed to play the game at Middle Tennessee State’s field but something was going on with their field that day, so we had to play our opponent, Oakland High School at Oakland, which gave them an unfair home-field advantage in the state tournament. So I was 14 years old going out to pitch in the state tournament in front of a packed house at our opponent’s home field - I’ve never had people dog-cussing at me like that! But that was the game I hit 90 MPH.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How did you end up doing?
Daniel Norris: I threw six innings and struck out 12, then came out to play CF while our closer shut it down, so it was good, we won.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: You debated a lot of schools in the ACC, and Vanderbilt as well, before choosing Clemson. What drew you there?
Daniel Norris: I’ve always been a Clemson fan, watching them on TV and stuff, but the past couple of years I really fell in love with the place, going there in the summer or even just for a football game. The place itself fits me as a person because it has an outdoorsy kind of feel, and the coaching staff is just a bunch of quality guys. I know that if I end up going there I would be under great supervision to help build my character as well as my baseball skills. I’m very thankful to have those guys in my future because they’re just tremendous, tremendous coaches.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Being from Tennessee, how hard was it to turn down a storied baseball program like Vandy?
Daniel Norris: It was pretty hard, they were definitely one of my favorites and it was difficult, but it was just one of those things where my heart was with Clemson. I will say that Vandy really proved to me that I was right in considering them because when I told them about choosing Clamson they were really happy for me and very supportive. I appreciated that a lot and it solidified my opinion of them.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: On the flip side there is the draft to think about. How much has it gone through your mind?
Daniel Norris: I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t think about it, but it’s not thoughts like “oh, I can’t wait until I hopefully get drafted,” it’s just more of a potential stepping stone. Whatever happens with it happens, and you just have to move on with life no matter what that is. You just have to know that God has a plan for you and he’s going to get you through whatever you need. So I think about it as a stepping stone, and I’m looking forward to it. For now I just want to get through this high school season and win a state championship because what better way to graduate than with a state ring on your finger?
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: When you do allow yourself to dream about pro ball, what is the image you get in your mind?
Daniel Norris: It’s every kid’s dream, and it’s always been mine to be a Major League Baseball player, have a long career, and go to the Hall of Fame, and that’s just where I have my sights set. My mentality is to do everything I can, no matter what, to achieve that goal – I mean, it’s really all I’ve ever known. I always tell the story that when we were in 8th or 9th grade they have these career days at school when people come and talk to you. Whenever they’d come up to me they would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I’d say “I want to be a Major League Baseball player.” They would tell me “do you know the chances of that, son?” My thoughts were always, well, yeah, I do know the chances, but that’s what I’ve got my sights set on and I’m not going to back down just because you tell me there’s a one-in-a-million chance. That dream has always been what’s important to me, and it’s what I’ve always wanted.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: How many teams have you heard from so far?
Daniel Norris: At least mid-twenties, maybe 28, I think? I’m just trying to get all the paperwork and meetings out of the way before the season starts. It’s a lot of fun and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate their interest, but I’m ready to get the season started and play some baseball!
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Are the Yankees one of the teams you’ve met with?
Daniel Norris: Yes, sir. About a month ago I sat down with the area scout, and he was a really good guy. You get different feels from different teams, and I’m honestly not just saying this, but I got a good vibe from them. He was just a really personable, laid-back guy. One thing I took away from the meeting was that a lot of people talk about the minor leagues not being about winning really, but with the Yankees they win in the minors and that focus on winning goes all the way up to the Majors.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Can you give me a detailed description of your arsenal?
Daniel Norris: I throw a four-seam fastball, and this summer I sat anywhere from 91-95 MPH, touching 96-97 MPH a few times, but primarily 92-94 MPH. I throw a modified circle changeup that gets a lot of arm-side run and downward movement, and it comes in anywhere from 80-85 MPH. It’s come a long way for me and I’ve worked really hard on developing it because I know that no matter where I end up going it’s going to be a very important pitch for my future. I throw a hard 12-to-6 curveball in the high 70s, touching the low 80s. I’ve also worked on a bit of a slide piece, it’s kind of rough but I threw some bullpens with it in the fall after messing around with the grips, and it felt pretty good – nice and tight.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: I’d assume because of your velo your outpitch is the fastball, but if you go away from that which pitch are you going to for the strikeout?
Daniel Norris: Probably the curveball; that’s what I’m most comfortable with right now. Elevating a fastball at times is a great outpitch, though. Say a batter is looking curveball and you elevate a fastball up and away, that can really catch him off guard.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What is your outward demeanor on the mound?
Daniel Norris: I think I’m really kind of laid back and don’t show much emotion. I can actually remember one time I showed emotion this past year. We won the sub-state game and that sent us to the state tournament which was huge for us, and at the very end of the game I struck the last guy out and threw a fist-pump, but that’s as much as I’ll show. I’m a calm guy, really laid-back, and don’t say much – just jog on and off the field. Talking with my buddy Jameson Taillon, he told me the same thing, that you don’t want anybody to be able to tell if you’re winning or losing based on your body-language or demeanor. He’s told me that a couple of times before, and obviously it worked for him [laughs]!
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Do you play the field and hit on days when you’re not pitching?
Daniel Norris: Yes sir, I play centerfield and hit as well. Obviously I love doing that, I love playing every single day. I love pitching, but you have to wait every five days just to play. It’s not that it gets boring or anything, but I just love being able to go out there every day and play, run down some fly balls, and swing the bat, and that’s where part of my passion comes in – just playing this game every day.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Have you always lived in Tennessee?
Daniel Norris: Yes, sir. I was born and raised in the same house.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: In that case, what Major League team did you grow up cheering for?
Daniel Norris: I’ve always been a Braves guy. The past few summers I’ve moved down to Atlanta and played with the East Cobb Yankees, but Chipper Jones has been my favorite player, so I’ve always been a Braves guy, but I like the Cardinals and Dodgers as well.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: It’s funny, Chipper Jones is easily the most named favorite player in all the interviews I’ve done over the years, and it’s not close. Up north we hear about Derek Jeter a lot, but It seems like everyone south of the Mason-Dixon line is a Braves fan and loves Chipper – he’s like a god down there!
Daniel Norris: Yeah, and just to touch on that a little more, if you look back both of those guys have been with the same team their entire career. You don’t see them jumping around, going from team to team, or messing around with free agency. I know Jeter had a little taste of it this year, but it was obvious he wanted to be a Yankee and I respect that a lot. It says a lot about the guys and the type of commitment they have, and it means a lot to me that Chipper is a Brave and always will be.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: I’ve read that you developed a pretty good bond with Josh Hamilton – how did that come about?
Daniel Norris: It came up through the advisor process. They will talk to you about Major Leaguers they represent and offer to have you speak with them for help in understanding what a baseball career is all about. I was with the East Cobb Yankees in New Mexico playing at the CMWS. I was just hanging out at our host house when I got a call from a random number. I answered it and the person asked me if he was speaking with Daniel Norris, I said yes and asked who was calling, and he said “this is Josh Hamilton.” In all honestly at first I was like “yeah, ok,” but it turned out it was actually him. He asked me how I was doing and we ended up talking for about an hour. When we finished he texted me that it was really good to see that I was a strong Christian and a man of faith, and that I shouldn’t hesitate to call or text him at any time. I wasn’t going to go overboard with that and text him all the time, but we went back and forth a few times and have kept in touch for quite a while. He’s everything that he seems to be in the media – it’s just heartwarming to get to see how genuine he is on a personal level.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: So outside of Josh, who are the Major Leaguers you look up to? Any pitchers?
Daniel Norris: I really like Clayton Kershaw from the Dodgers. I always liked Smoltz, Glavine, and Pettitte growing up, but I really do like watching Kershaw now. I think on and off the field he’s just a great guy. I had the opportunity to talk to him as well, and he’s the same as Josh Hamilton, just a great man of faith and you could tell how genuine he was just by speaking to him on the phone. I love watching him pitch, he goes right after guys, and in a way we’re comparable I suppose – being left-handed and all that – so it’s just really cool for me to watch him pitch and do his thing.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: If you could steal one pitch from anyone in your draft class, whose pitch would you take, and why?
Daniel Norris: Hmm. That’s a really tough question. I’m sure you know Dillon Howard from Arkansas, and I watched him pitch two years ago when he was playing for Midland which is the archrival of the East Cobb Yankees. Since then I’ve seen him pitch quite a few times and I’m in love with his slider. I told you I’ve been working on one, but I don’t really throw a slider myself yet, and if I could have any one pitch from someone else I’d love that slider. Sitting up in the stands and watching him backdoor people like it’s nothing is really fun to watch. He’s so smooth and effortless with it, it’s pretty cool to see.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: What are you hoping for from the upcoming season from both a team standpoint and an individual one? You said earlier you wanted a state championship, but what about your personal goals?
Daniel Norris: Yeah, I want nothing more than that state championship; that would be awesome to share with my buddies. For me personally as a pitcher I really just want to find some mechanics, stay smooth, on the same plane, and repeat my delivery every time. Mechanics are my main focus and what I’d like to work on. I’d like to get a nice fluid motion every time out, but overall I just want to have a successful year more than anything, and go out there and play the game I love. I’m not going to go out there and pitch for the scouts or anybody else, I just want to pitch for me and God and give him the glory no matter what. That’s what’s important to me every time I go out on the field: play for God’s glory.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Is playing professionally out of high school something that interests you, or are you completely locked into Clemson?
Daniel Norris: I’ll be honest, it’s a fifty-fifty deal, really. I mean, what kid doesn’t want to go pro straight out of high school? Deep down you know every kid wants to do that, but at the same time you really have to mature, step back, and weigh each option so that you can be sure that whichever choice you make is the right decision, because it’s not right for everybody. You hear about guys all the time who sign up and go one-and-done, so you really have to step back, weigh those options, pray about it, and that will lead in the right direction for sure. At this point for me it’s definitely fifty-fifty, I’d say.
Kevin Levine-Flandrup: Being 17 years old, how do you deal with the pressure that comes along with these two amazing opportunities you have in front of you? How do you balance that pressure with just trying to be a normal high school teenager?
Daniel Norris: That’s a very good question. I do everything I can to make sure I can always relate to my friends; that close knit group of guys on my baseball team. I don’t really speak about it that much – it’s not that I don’t want to talk about it, it’s just that as long as I’m in high school I’d rather be a high school kid like everyone else. I’m not going out there every day thinking “I could be a professional baseball player,” I just want to play the game. I can’t stress how much the game means to me, both as a person and an athlete. But I just don’t talk about my situation that much. I think about it sometimes, but mostly I just want to go out there, enjoy my day, listen to some music, hang out with the guys and relax…even though baseball usually is in the back of my mind no matter what.