On their current 40-man roster, the Cubs now have Tyler ChatWOOD tenuously gripping a spot in the starting rotation, Duane UnderWOOD biding his time in AAA after a brief MLB trial, and now James NorWOOD riding the shuttle from Iowa to the Chicago bullpen. I'd say that this team is sporting an impressive amount of wood...
Yesterday morning, the Cubs made a roster move to freshen their thinly-stretched pitching staff. With short starts abound for Chicago moundsmen not named Jon Lester, including the aforementioned Chatwood, some reinforcement was absolutely necessary. Appropriately enough, the front office didn't have to look too hard for building material, as there was some excess "wood" lying around Principal Park in Des Moines.
Pictured here with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, James Norwood continues his rise through the Cubs system, officially making the ultimate ascent after Anthony Bass was placed on the 10-day DL for an illness. A seventh-round pick in the 2014 draft, James becomes the first hurler from that pitching heavy draft to make it to the Big Leagues, ahead of more heralded names like Jake Stinnett, Carson Sands, Justin Steele, and Dylan Cease.
James' development had shifted into high gear since making a full-time transition to the pen. Starting 2017 with the A-level Pelicans, James blew through hitters in the Carolina League before earning a promotion. After 39 games with the Tennessee Smokies, Norwood punched his ticket to Iowa, where he only had time to twirl 5.1 AAA innings before his services were needed on the MLB roster. Propelling him through this rapid ascent were his 95 mph fastball, plus secondary offerings, and strikeouts (career 9.2 K/9).
However, James did not make an appearance in yesterday's exciting win over the suddenly surging Reds and his initial stay in Chicago is likely to be brief in nature. That said, James has the potential to be a part of the bullpen picture for years to come.
Norwood working on the mound for the South Bend Cubs, circa 2016.
As I alluded to earlier, Norwood was not the most-hyped pitcher selected by the Cubs in his draft class. As a result, he has not appeared in many mainstream baseball card products. While the other arms selected by the Cubbies have ended up in licensed sets, such as Bowman, Pro Debut, and Minor League Heritage over the years, James has only popped up in Panini's Prizm Perennial Draft Picks and Elite Extra Edition and nothing since 2014. The jokes on those guys though, as they're still stuck in the bushes.
Luckily for me and my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, I took a trip to the Myrtle Beach area last fall for a wedding. Of course, while I was in town, I made sure to stop by TicketReturn.com Field (without missing the nuptials, of course). Though minor league season had ended by that point, it was quite the exciting side-trip and I made sure to grab a copy of the 2017 Pelicans team-set from the gift shop. As mentioned earlier, Norwood spent the first half of that season with MB and, thus, this set had "wood."
Despite the fact that this set is based a round an A-ball team and is slightly less than a calendar year old, you might be surprised to know that Mr. Norwood is not the first player from it's checklist to make the Majors. That honor belongs to one Dillon Maples, who's meteoric rise from Myrtle to Chicago after nearly giving up the game was one of last season's best feel-good stories. Maples has also appeared in a handful of games as part of the bullpen shuttle and is most certainly not letting his frequent rider membership expire.
Furthermore, Norwood isn't even the second person from the cello-pack to make the ultimate ascent. This past winter, Pedro Araujo was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the Rule 5 Draft and the prospect defied the odds to make the Bird's MLB roster out of spring training. Thus, for now, Pedro's Pelican card resides in my "Coulda Been a Cub" binder, owing to Araujo's 20 games in black and orange. However, this could change, seeing as he must remain on the 25-man roster for the rest of the season or be offered back to Chicago - his performance (7.71 ERA) indicates that he is on unsteady (at best) ground.
Of course, the O's are historically bad this year and Pedro is hardly hurting their chances to compete. We'll see what happens.
In summation, this 2017 Choice Myrtle Beach Pelicans team set has already produced three Major League Baseball players, two of which have suited up for the Cubs and have been added to my CATRC. That's not bad for an impromptu vacation souvenir purchase! I highly doubt that's where the fun will end either, as several other guys in this set are on MLB tracks, including - but not limited to - Thomas Hatch, Eddy Julio Martinez, Oscar de la Cruz, and more. Not to mention, there's Adbert Alzolay, who would likely have already become the fourth Big Leaguer from this pack, if not for suffering a season-ending lat injury in May... le sigh.
At any rate, this purchase continues to pay dividends towards my main collecting goal. Who will be the next player from it's depths to earn themselves a cuppacoffee?
One more note about our "lumbering" hero, James Norwood, before I call it quits on this post - before he's even tossed a pitch at the game's highest level, the young hurler has already made a bit of baseball history. With his call-up on Monday, the former Billiken became the first St. Louis University product to make it all the way to the Major Leagues in nearly fifty years. Before Norwood, the most recent SLU alumnus to do so was Len Boehmer, who played from 1967-71 with the Angels and the Yankees.
That's not a bad feather to add to the proverbial cap.
Anyway, welcome to the Majors and to my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, James Norwood. Here's hoping that Norwood's tenure in the Bigs lasts far longer than four hours!