Seeking clarification as to which New York Yankees’ minor-league port of call Tim Norton would dock at this season, we revved up the search feature on MiLB.com’s home page, fingers crossed that a simple mouse click would yield the desired answer.
Instead, we were left with more questions with a side order of curiosity.
The web page containing all of the pertinent info one would come to associate with a pitcher also denoted that Norton, a Burrillville High graduate, was active and a member of Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Naturally the next course of action was to call up the roster of the Triple-A Yankees, which featured nary a player named Norton.
With the desire to know rapidly building toward a crescendo, we opted to scan the player composition of Double-A Trenton. Once again, Norton was MIA.
Where to turn when the computer is unable to fill in the gaps? Thankfully Pat Roessler, the Yankees Director of Player Development, was able to shed some light regarding Norton’s hardball whereabouts.
Reached late last week, Roessler divulged that the 28-year-old Norton is presently serving as an interim pitching coach in extended spring training at the Yanks’ complex in Tampa, Fla. If the transition from pitcher-to-teacher goes smoothly, then Norton could very well find himself performing in a similar capacity when the Gulf Coast League season opens for business come June.
With news like that, the next question should be fairly obvious. Has Norton, whose career has been riddled by a host of shoulder impediments that on two occasions required surgery, decided to hang up the spikes for good? As Roessler noted, it’s not clear if this means the end or a short break for the ex-Bronco.
“Don’t know,” responded Roessler when broached about the idea of Norton calling it quits. “He wants to stay in the game, but I don’t think his arm was responding like he wanted it to.”
Starts and stalls followed by countless re-starts have come to define Norton’s pro career. Just when he and the Yankees thought the corner had been turned, his right arm would start yipping, informing him to seek immediate medical attention. Working exclusively as a reliever following his second pro season, Norton never appeared in more than 23 games after missing the entire 2008 campaign.
Last season saw the 6-foot-5, 230-pound righty compile remarkable numbers for Trenton (1.55 ERA, 44 strikeouts in 29 innings) before reaching Scranton in early June. All the positive vibes disappeared after just one Class AAA appearance as another rendezvous with rehab prematurely lowered the curtain on 2011.
A new day dawned as Spring Training 2012 got underway. Unfortunately for Norton, it wound up being more of the same. The issues that had plagued him time and time again resurfaced once more.
“He just didn’t come around like we had hoped,” Roessler said.
In order to lessen the blow of Norton’s career hitting yet another snag – in five seasons he’s checked into 85 games while registering 238 punchouts in 197 2/3 frames – Roessler and the Yankees came up with a plan that would allow the University of Connecticut product to remain involved in a day-to-day/mentoring capacity. Placing him in this position speaks volumes of the high regard the organization has for Norton.
“He’s been exemplary to the point that you couldn’t have asked for a better person, a harder worker and someone who represents the organization in all that it represents as good as Nordy,” praised Roessler.
By taking a special assistant’s job rather than return as a player to begin the season, Norton is keeping the door open so that in the event his arm starts showing signs of coming around, he’ll at least be in the right frame of mind. Until the day a more finite decision arrives, it’s best to understand that he has everything in perspective.
“There have been some cases where guys have gone into coaching before going back into playing, so I wouldn’t rule that out 100 percent,” said Roessler. “Right now Tim is trying to make the transition into being a pitching coach for us.”
In order to become more acclimated to his first-ever five-month, 144-game minor-league grind, former Pawtucket resident and Yankees prospect Mason Williams packed on “20-25 pounds” to the outfielder’s listed 6-foot, 150-pound lithe frame, the result of spending part of his offseason toiling in Florida with his fellow farmhands.
“He’s gained some good strength and you could really tell by the way the ball was coming off the bat during the spring,” says Roessler about Williams, a fourth-round pick in 2010.
Last season saw Williams appear in 63 games with Class A Short-Season Staten Island. The son of ex-New England Patriots wideout Derwin Williams became the talk of the New York-Penn League as Mason finished first in steals (28) while ranking second in hitting (.349). The youngster, who isn’t due to turn 21 until later this summer, accomplished all of the above in just 68 games.
Such mastery in a relative short period of time made it all but a forgone conclusion that Williams was ready to take the next step in his development. By assigning him to Low A Charleston, the Yankees too felt he was primed to handle his first full-season test.
“His defense has a chance to be outstanding; he’s got great range and shows no fear. He gets tremendous jumps,” Roessler said when asked to share the expectations the Yankees have for what Baseball America pegged as the fifth-best prospect in New York’s system. Others are also paying attention as River Avenue Blues, a noted Yankees website, set up a feature entitled “The Mason Williams Watch.”
“Offensively his bunt game is good. He’s working on his stolen base technique and his reads, while having more consistent at-bats on the offensive side,” Roessler added. “Everybody who watches Mason play, you can’t help but come away thinking, ‘Wow, this guy has got a chance to be some sort of player.’”
Sunday saw Williams collect a double and a triple on his way to compiling his third straight multi-hit game. Serving as Charleston’s leadoff hitter, he’s batting .318 through the team’s first 10 games.
According to St. Louis farm director John Vuch, Lincoln native and pitcher Chris Costantino was placed on a rehab schedule shortly after reporting to spring training with a sore right shoulder.
“Chris will remain behind at extended spring training and will work to get himself back into playing condition,” wrote Vuch in an email.
Vuch added that once Costantino is deemed healthy, the former Bishop Hendricken standout should be assigned to one of the Cardinals’ short-season clubs either in Batavia (New York-Penn League) or Johnson City (Appalachian League).
Costantino made his pro debut last summer after getting selected in the 43rd round of the 2011 draft, tossing six shutout innings spanning three appearances, all in relief.