David 'Bud' Norris was drafted with the 23rd pick in the sixth round of the 2006 draft. A right-handed pitcher out of Cal Poly, the 5-foot-11, 200 lb. Norris came in as one in a line of college players the Astros targeted during the previous administration under scouting directors David Lakey and Paul Ricciarini.
At 24, Norris is the youngest Astro on the Round Rock roster and uncharacteristically, has been pushed through the system by the front office. He spent most of his first full season in the minors with the Lexington team, making 22 starts and throwing 96 2/3 innings. His numbers were solid, as he went 117 strikeouts to 41 walks. His ERA was a bit high at 4.75 and his record (2-8) reflected that. He did make one start with High A Salem, winning that by throwing six innings and allowing four hits and one run. His strikeout total ranked him second in the Astros system and put him on the map as a prospect.
In 2008, Norris started off strong at Corpus Christi, going 3-0 in five starts in April. He threw 25 innings and gave up 22 hits and five earned runs, striking out 35 and walking six. He didn't give up a home run all month and had an ERA+ of 198. However, his May was terrible, mainly due to a strained elbow that kept him out of the rotation from May 15 to July 6. He returned to post a season line of 19 starts, 80 innings, 89 hits, 84 strikeouts, 31 walks and an ERA of 4.05. The elbow strain clearly knocked him out of the rhythm he was in during the month of April, as he didn't win a game the rest of the year (3-8).
Norris is undoubtedly the prospect closest to the majors right now, since Felipe Paulino got called up last month. The park Norris is pitching in trends towards the pitcher's favor, with a .94 park factor for runs, .98 for hits, .91 for doubles and .96 for home runs. Still, he's posted a solid like of 29 strikeouts to 15 walks, starting five games and throwing 29 innings while giving up 23 hits and 10 earned runs.
He's posted solid if not spectactular game scores in each of his five starts. He's not dipped below 50 on any of his game scores, but his highest is a 61, which is a bit low. As I mentioned in my profile of Jordan Lyles, the big thing with pitch counts isn't to stick to one number for everyone. It's to gradually ease into bigger numbers, so the young pitcher's arm has a chance to catch up and, hopefully, avoid catastrophic injury. Norris has thrown 85, 95, 106, 121 and 87 pitches in his five starts, so he's gradually thrown more and lengthened out his time on the mound. His strikeout numbers are ridiculous and his Power/Finess Ratio is off the charts at 1.71. As a comparison, the highest starting pitcher's number in the majors right now is Rich Harden with a 1.95. Harden is considered one of the best strikeout pitchers in the league, so it's easy to see why the Astros are considering Norris for the closer role if/when El Papa Grande gets traded/leaves via free agency.
As for Norris' contribution this season, he's got a PRC of 6.79, which is not bad, but is lower than expected because of all the walks he's given up. He's got solid splits and is holding lefties to a .209 batting average this season. His line drive percentage has creeped up in each of his last three starts and Norris has given up four line drives in each of the past two games. His BABiP is a little low at .270, which is not surprising since his DER is at .711 and his team's overall DER is at .644, meaning the team has fielded quite a bit better with Norris on the mound than for the other pitchers on the team. His expected winning percentage means he should have won at least two games by this point, but at 0-2, he's still struggling to pick up victories.
Norris has given up two home runs, but at .62 HR/9 innings, that rate is lower than his career minor league average of .9 HR/9 innings. He's also got a great G/F ratio of 31/22, which explains why his FIP is so close to his real ERA...well, that and the strikeouts.
Overall, Norris is a solid if not spectacular starter. He throws a lot of pitcher per batter (3.92 right now and third highest on the team) which is another reason why he's probably slotted for the bullpen. He's definitely a power arm, though and I wouldn't be surprised if he makes a late season cameo with the Astros.