By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Doug Norman will not be part of the LSU bullpen in 2018.
The LSU right-hander intends to sign with the Cincinnati Reds and will begin his professional career, Norman told Tiger Rag on Monday.
Norman was selected in the 25th round (No. 737 overall) in the MLB Draft earlier this month. He expects to officially sign his contract by July 7.
“With everything that’s happened with me and the cards that I’ve been dealt, they made me an offer that’s just too good to pass up,” Norman said.
Norman, currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, isn’t with the team in Omaha as the Tigers prepare to begin the College World Series Finals against Florida on Monday night.
As one might expect, it’s a mixed bag emotionally for Norman to be confided to spectating from home as his team pursues a national championship.
It’s been especially tough during the postseason, as Norman had to watch the Baton Rouge Regional and Super Regional from the stands as opposed to the dugout, where he spent regular season home games chatting with his teammates.
The junior was expected to serve as LSU’s setup man this season, but suffered a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament in his pitching elbow during an appearance against Maryland on Feb. 26. He pitched to a 5.40 ERA in 3.1 innings across three relief appearances before undergoing season-ending surgery.
“It was just tough, you know,” Norman said. “You work so hard for so many years. So many days out in the field running and doing drills with Coach (Alan) Dunn. Working on your craft every single day and then not being able to be a part of it on the field.
“At the same time, I’m super happy for our guys. They’re my best friends, my teammates. And I’m so happy for the way things are. The day I got hurt, I told my dad we were going to win the national championship this year and I couldn’t believe I wasn’t going to be a part of that.”
Moving forward, the Reds will allow Norman to remain in Baton Rouge through the summer to continue his rehab.
Then, in the fall, he’ll have the option of remaining in school on the organization’s dime — standard for provisional contracts — while he rehabs with LSU trainer Cory Couture or heading to Arizona, where the organization’s rookie ball facilities are located.
“This is just an ideal situation,” Norman said. “They’re going to let me stick to what’s familiar. The guy told me on the phone that there’s no reason for me to be out in Arizona, do my lifting and rehab first thing in the morning and then stare at the wall for eight hours deciding what I want for dinner.”
Up until a week before the draft, Norman hadn’t even thought about the prospects of being selected. His sole focus was recovering as quickly as possible to get back on the mound for the Tigers.
Cincinnati reached out in the days leading up to the draft to gauge his interest. As it turned out, the team had kept an eye on him dating back to his high school days in North Carolina. One of the team’s amateur scouts based in Charlotte had seen him pitch on multiple occasions.
Their interest got ratcheted up during fall practice, Norman said, as scouts watched him pitch an intra-squad game against LSU ace Alex Lange and most of the projected starting lineup.
“I think they were there because of Lange or one of the other prospects that we have,” Norman said. “But they saw me and they really liked it. They stuck with me. The cards that I was dealt weren’t ideal, but it’s all working out.”
Aside from daily rehab, Norman has found another way to occupy his time.
Together with former LSU pitcher Alden Cartwright, who retired from baseball this spring after multiple arm surgeries, Norman has worked weekly youth camps called the Zeros Pitching Academy in and around the Baton Rouge area.
The two are holding a camp in Port Allen from 6-8 p.m. Monday, meaning they’ll only catch the later stages of Game One of the CWS Finals.
“That watching is the toughest part,” Norman said. “It’s tough to say it, but I’m doing the camp at 6 p.m. tonight, and I’m kind of ok with that. I’m rooting for those guys, but it makes me feel kind of selfish that I wish I could be a part of it.”
Any competitor who puts that much time and effort into their craft would surely emphasize.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri told Tiger Rag last weekend that he’d advised Norman to sign professionally, feeling it unlikely he’d recover in time to contribute before the latter stages of next season, which would’ve been his draft-eligible junior year.
Mainieri also said he expected right-hander Hunter Kiel, another reliever who isn’t on the postseason roster, to sign professionally. The Chicago White Sox drafted Kiel in the 18th round (No. 537) in the MLB Draft.