Not even Daniel Norris can believe how quickly he's moved up the Toronto Blue Jays' organizational ladder this year.
The left-handed pitcher, who started the 2014 season in single-A Dunedin before a brief stint at double-A New Hampshire, is on the move again, this time to triple-A Buffalo where he was promoted to on Wednesday.
Now one step away from his ultimate goal of pitching in the big leagues — and just three years after he was drafted by Toronto in the second round out of high school — Norris says he did a double-take when his New Hampshire coaches pulled him into the visiting manager's office in Erie, Penn., to tell him the news.
"I asked if they were serious," said Norris, who is expected to meet up with his new Bisons teammates on Thursday in Durham, N.C., where they're currently taking on the Tampa Bay affiliate Bulls.
"When they said yes, I shook their hands and thanked them for all they did for my development."
The 21-year-old didn't spend much time with the Fisher Cats, starting only eight games for a 3-1 record, a 4.54 ERA and a 1.374 WHIP. In 35 2/3 innings, Norris struck out 49 batters, gave up five home runs and walked 17.
Before that, he went 6-0 with a 1.22 ERA through 13 starts with the Florida State League's Dunedin Blue Jays, a performance which earned him a roster spot on the American team for this year's MLB Futures Game, and led Baseball America to proclaim him Toronto's top prospect on its mid-season list — ahead of right-handed pitcher Aaron Sanchez who's currently with the big league club.
But Norris didn't always dominate the way he has so far this season.
In 2012, his first year of pro ball, the Johnson City, Tenn., native was 2-4 with an 8.44 ERA, and 2-7 in 2013 as the organization worked to revamp his delivery.
Looking back on his early struggles, Norris, a devout Christian, sees his promotion to Buffalo as a blessing.
"You never know what to expect in this game," he said. "When opportunities come your way, you have to take them and make the most of them. I feel very fortunate, very blessed."
Baseball America lists Norris' fastball, which typically hits 92-94 m.p.h., as touching 96 regularly in Dunedin. They also say his slider and change-up have "at least plus potential."
With the Bisons, Norris will be facing his steepest competition yet, going up against top prospects at the highest level of the minors as well as players with major league experience under their belts.
But that doesn't phase the young lefty.
"I'm excited to face those kinds of guys," he said.
As Norris sees it, pitching in triple-A will provide valuable experience as he continues to keep his sights set on the main goal.
"Obviously there is an ultimate dream, and that's the big leagues," he said. "I want to get there and have sustained success. Until then, of course, I won't be satisfied. I don't know if I ever will be."
BLUE JAYS NEWS:
John Gibbons hasn't heard any further complaints from his Blue Jays regarding the club's inactivity at the trade deadline.
Though right-fielder Jose Bautista and relief pitcher Casey Janssen publicly voiced their opinions on the matter last week, the Toronto manager says his players have gotten those feelings out of their system.
"That's gone now," Gibbons said this week before taking on the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre. "I don't hear any talk about that anymore."
The non-waiver trade deadline came and went without the Blue Jays making any significant moves, save for shipping triple-A players Liam Hendriks and Erik Kratz to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Danny Valencia.
Gibbons didn't make a big deal out of the inactivity. But he did say he addressed the team briefly in Houston after Bautista and Janssen made their remarks to the media there.
"I told them, 'Hey, we've got a good ball club, let's run with it,'" he said. "If someone new comes in, it means someone has to go, and everybody here wants to be a part of it."
LAWRIE BACK ON DL
Brett Lawrie's return from the disabled list lasted all of three innings.
[Brett-Lawrie2] The Blue Jays placed the Canadian third baseman back on the 15-day DL with an oblique strain on Thursday (retroactive to Aug. 6), two days after he made his first appearance in the Toronto lineup since breaking his hand at the end of June.
Lawrie started Tuesday's game against the Orioles but left after taking his first at-bat. The Langley, B.C., native has missed time in each of the past two seasons because of oblique injuries.
"The tough one with this one is we don't know what the cause is. ... I'm going to talk to our guys," said Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos. "Obviously it's a new thing, but at some point maybe we do some things with Brett that can maybe prevent."
NOTES: The Blue Jays signed Canadian C George Kottaras (Markham, Ont.). The 31-year-old will report to triple-A Buffalo.
CANADIANS IN THE MAJOR LEAGUES
[paxton] Seattle Mariners left-handed pitcher James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) is finally back off the disabled list after spending nearly four months there with a strained left lat muscle.
Paxton started in Seattle's 6-3 win over the Orioles last Saturday, but went just 4 1/3 innings in his first outing on a major league mound since April. The Canadian threw 83 pitches (48 for strikes) and allowed two runs on four hits and three walks while striking out five.
The 25-year-old's next start is Saturday against the Chicago White Sox at Safeco Field.
He's 2-0 with a 2.76 ERA so far this season, and 5-0 in his career dating back to last September.
CANADIANS IN THE MINOR LEAGUES
[Scott-Diamond2] Reds minor league pitcher Scott Diamond (Guelph, Ont.) picked up his first win since joining Cincinnati's organization three weeks ago. And he did it against his former triple-A team, the Rochester Red Wings.
Diamond pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings, giving up eight hits, zero walks and striking out three as the Louisville Bats beat the Twins affiliate 5-1 on Monday.
The 28-year-old left-hander was 4-7 with a 6.52 ERA and 1.638 WHIP through 15 starts with the Red Wings before he was released by Minnesota. Since he signed with Cincinnati, Diamond is 1-1 through four starts with a 2.96 ERA and 1.098 WHIP.
ROYALS UNDER NEW OWNERSHIP
The PBLO's Oakville Royals underwent a bit of a makeover ahead of their upcoming season, bringing in a new ownership group and changing their name.
Now known as the Ontario Royals, the elite program will be headed by Ian Wilkie, Rob Shaver and Mitch Dobbie.
-- Follow Melissa on Twitter @throwinsmoke