Game Report: Saint Louis Righthander James Norwood

After one of the snowiest winters in the history of the state of Missouri, Saint Louis has flocked to warmer pastures to start the season, playing at Alabama in its first weekend series and at Duke this weekend. Righthander James Norwood showed the stuff to go in the top five rounds Saturday and could vault higher with continued development of his offspeed stuff.

Norwood, who went undrafted out of high school in New York state, has added significant velocity since reaching campus. He touched 93 mph as a freshman and made another jump last fall following a UCL strain as a sophomore, touching 97.

“Last year I made the velocity jump,” Norwood said. “I tried to come back for the end of the season and that was a little too quick. So I stayed off the whole summer and worked out. Then I in the fall I started throwing again. My velocity was increasing when I was going through rehab in the fall. I was stronger than I had previously been. ”

He was limited to 21 innings and one start as a sophomore because the injury that caused him to only pitch in two games after the second week of March and not play summer ball.

The righthander sat 92-94 mph and touched 95 through the first three innings Saturday before sitting 91-93 in his final two innings. He maintained his velocity from the stretch while still being quick to the plate (1.2 seconds). Norwood, who is very young for his class and will be only 20 years and six months on draft day, flashed above-average fastball life, pitching with downhill plane from a high three-quarters arm slot that created arm-side run and sink.

He showed the ability to consistently throw strikes with his fastball, as 71.2 percent (42 of 59) of his fastballs went for strikes. He showed the ability to locate his heater to both sides of the plate, but pitched primarily to his arm side against a lineup that featured seven righthanded hitters, and he mostly worked away from the lefthanded hitters.

Norwood is a power pitcher with a power pitcher’s mentality who pitches off his fastball, illustrated by his 11-pitch battle against the second hitter of the game when he threw 10 straight fastballs. Nearly three-quarters (73.8 percent) of his pitches on the day were fastballs.

“Right now in the beginning of the season I am trying to challenge hitters with my fastball first until they prove that they can make solid contact,” Norwood said.

Norwood’s fastball was ahead of his secondary stuff Saturday and his breaking ball command was lacking, understandable given how little time the Saint Louis team has been able to spend outside.

His best offering Saturday was an 83-86 mph changeup that showed the makings of a solid-average pitch. He commanded the pitch, throwing strikes on six of his nine changeups and getting two swings and misses.

He threw two breakings balls, a mid-80s cutter/slider and a 78-81 curveball, which showed the makings of a fringe-average pitch that flashed average.

“I just added the slider this fall,” Norwood said. “I am more comfortable with my curve because I have been throwing it longer. I just need to continue developing it.”

His offspeed stuff, primarily his curveball (which showed improved tilt and depth) and changeup, was much sharper in the fourth and fifth innings.

“This same thing happened last weekend,” Norwood said. “The more I was throwing my offspeed, the better it got throughout the game.”

Norwood has effort to his delivery and a head snap that he has worked on quieting.

“I have been on working on my follow-through to go straight at the target and working on releasing fastballs to my arm side where I need to. So I can work on fully extending to the glove side when I work away,” Norwood said.

Norwood allowed three hits and one earned run in five innings of the 3-2 victory. He did not miss many bats, getting only four swings and misses on 80 pitches. He struck out two of the 19 hitters he faced and walked three.

The athletic 6-foot-2, 200-pound Norwood has a strong build with good muscular definition through his upper body and wide shoulders.

Norwood will be an interesting follow as the weather warms and he gains more mound time.

Saint Louis will play next weekend in a tournament at Wake Forest that includes Stony Brook and Saint Peter’s.