Q&A: Josh Norris, The Trentonian

3 04 2011

I spoke with Josh Norris, who covers the Trenton Thunder (the New York Yankees’ AA-affiliate team) for the Trentonian. Below are some excerpts from our chat:

Making the Majors: On average, how long does the average minor league career last?

Josh Norris: It really depends on a lot of things—where you’re drafted, or if you’re a high school player versus a college player. Obviously, if a team drafts you with a higher pick, they’re going to push you through the minors quicker. But if you’re a high school player, they’re going to compensate sometimes for your lack of seasoning in high school.

Take a kid like Adam Warren. He was drafted in the fourth round in the 2009 draft, from the University of North Carolina. Last year was his second professional season, and he went from High-A Tampa to Trenton. This year he’ll probably start in Triple-A Scranton. So in just about two professional seasons, he’s almost in the major leagues.

Then there’s Slade Heathcott, who was drafted in the first round in 2009.  He was a little more raw because he was coming straight out of high school. He doesn’t know what professional life is like, so it takes a little longer for him to get adapted to things like long bus rides and managing money, aside from developing his skills as a player. They’re taking things a little slower with him because of the fact that he’s younger. There’s always the exception to every rule, but for the most part that’s how it goes.

MtM: You mentioned bus rides and spending money as things that minor leaguers need to adjust to. In that respect, how much different are the minor leagues than the major leagues?

JN: It’s more of a grind in the minor leagues. For instance, in the Eastern League, where the Thunder play, they take buses everywhere. So you could have a 9-10 hour bus ride from Trenton to Akron or from Portland to Erie. In the major leagues, you’re going to be on a plane pretty much everywhere. The post-game spreads are very different; the food in the clubhouse is different. The per-diem is a lot higher in the major leagues. I think in the major leagues, the current per-diem is about $125 a day. In the minor leagues, it’s not that much. There’s all sorts of little day-to-day differences that you’ll notice as you transition from minor league life to major-league life.

When I was with the San Diego Padres’ short-season affiliate, their clubhouse was unfinished and unfurnished. You literally hung your uniform on a nail in a piece of wood, and your spread every day was peanut butter and jelly. It’s better here in Trenton—they get stuff from Rosa’s, which is a little Italian restaurant right around here. But you go to the major leagues, and the spread is pretty much whatever you would want.

MtM: Do players often have a backup plan in the event that their career doesn’t pan out?

JN: The smart ones do. The smart ones have a college education to fall back on. It’s tougher for the kids who come right out of high school or international players. You really need to be a top prospect if you don’t have something else in case you don’t pan out. It’s especially true for international players. Unless you’re Gary Sanchez, who had a $3 million signing bonus at age 17, your bonus is the plane ticket that gets you here. From there, you earn the same salary as everyone else, which is basically nothing, and you’re told to go out and make it. If you don’t, you have little choice but to go back to your home country.

MtM: How much of a difference is there between AA-ball and AAA-ball?

JN: AA is the first real proving ground. If you can’t hack it in AA, you probably won’t hack it in the majors. There are a few players who will be so good in AA that they’ll skip AAA just because it’s redundant. Kyle Drabek of the Toronto Blue Jays is an example of one. He didn’t pitch for AAA Las Vegas at all. But he spent a good deal of time in AA over his minor league career, and now he’s in the major leagues.

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