Name: Derek Norris
Height/Weight: 6'0''/210 pounds
How Acquired: Traded along with Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole and Tom Milone for Gio Gonzalez and Robert Gilliam on December 22, 2011. Originally drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 4th round in 2007.
Norris was originally drafted by the Nationals out of a Kansas high school in the fourth round in 2007. He was considered one of the better high school catchers in the draft, but most teams believed that he was headed to Wichita State. The Nationals were able to sign Norris away from his collegiate commitment with a $210,000 signing bonus. Norris got his feet wet right away, appearing in 37 games in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2007. Although his overall numbers in the GCL weren't eye-popping (726 OPS), Norris walked 25 times in 123 at-bats, a sign of things to come for the right-handed hitter.
In 2008, Washington sent Norris to short-season Vermont, where he put together a memorable season for the Lake Monsters (if the Vermont Lake Monsters sound familiar, it is because they are now an A's affiliate). Despite playing in a pitcher's league, Norris blistered New York-Penn League pitching to the tune of a 906 OPS in 70 games. He homered 10 times and he walked 63 times, leading to an otherworldly .444 on-base percentage. Norris was named a Topps short-season/Rookie level All-Star for his exploits.
The 2008 campaign pushed Norris into the prospect spotlight, and the heat of that spotlight would only intensify in 2009 after his performance in the Low-A Sally League. In 126 games, Norris posted a 926 OPS with a .413 OBP and a .513 SLG. He hit 23 homers and walked 90 times. Norris was named a Topps post-season All-Star once again and received MiLB.com's Best Hitter of the Year award for the Class A level.
Despite his outstanding numbers in 2008 and 2009, Norris continued to move through the Nationals' system at a one-level-a-year pace. In 2010, he moved to the High-A Carolina League, where he suited up for the Potomac Nationals. Norris would find the Carolina League a bit tougher sledding, as he saw his average drop to .235 from the 2009-level of .286 and his slugging percentage fell nearly 100 points from .513 in 2009 to .419. On the plus-side, Norris actually improved his on-base percentage despite the drop in average – posting a .419 mark – and he still managed a solid 838 OPS. His season was not without adversity, as he missed the first month with a wrist injury and some additional time after being hit in the head with a 97 MPH pitch in May.
Norris was a participant in the 2010 Arizona Fall League and performed well in the prospect showcase. He homered four times in 54 at-bats and walked 11 times against 18 strike-outs. Norris also flashed a little speed, tripling twice and stealing two bases.
Last season, Norris suited up for Double-A Harrisburg of the Southern League for the entire year. Much like in 2010, Norris struggled to hit for average, batting only .210. His power numbers improved from 2010, as he hit 20 homers and slugged .446, but his walk totals declined, and he walked only 77 times in 104 games and posted a .367 on-base percentage. The injury bug bit him again slightly in 2011, as he missed a week early in the season with an ankle injury.
This fall, Norris returned to the Arizona Fall League. He got off to a strong start at the plate with the Scottsdale Scorpions but faded down the stretch and finished the AFL campaign with a 748 OPS. Norris' first-half of the AFL season was impressive enough that he was named to the AFL Rising Stars game and the AFL's All-Prospect team and scouts were generally pleased with what they saw from him before the fatigue from the long season set in. Norris was added to the Nationals' 40-man roster before his trade to the A's and he will be a roster player at the A's major league spring training this February for the first time.
As a hitter, Norris is a classic A's prospect. He will likely never hit for a high average and he will always strike-out his fair share, but Norris has the two traits that the A's value most highly in a hitter – plus power and patience. Despite being only 6'0'', 210 pounds, Norris can reach the seats in even the deepest ballparks. He tends to be a pull-happy hitter, but he has flashed opposite-field power on occasion. Norris is naturally a very selective hitter and he sees a lot of pitches per at-bat. Scout.com's Frankie Piliere posted a video of Norris hitting at the Arizona Fall League, which can be found here.
Behind the plate, Norris still has work to do, but he has improved his defensive skills in each season he has played professionally. He grew up a catcher through Little League and junior high, but was moved to third base for his first three years in high school as there was an older player at the catcher position in front of him. He did spend his senior year of high school behind the plate, but those three years at third put Norris a little behind other high school catchers defensively at the time he was drafted.
Tools-wise, Norris has the ability to be an average to above-average receiver. He is a good athlete and he moves his feet well. He also has a strong throwing arm and he has improved his release on throws to second base. His overall footwork and mechanics behind the plate improved quite a bit in 2011, as well, and he is starting to get a better feel for calling his own game and working with pitchers. Despite moving up one level at a time through the Nationals' system, Norris has generally been younger than most of his minor league batterymates. He will turn 23 in mid-February.
Although the A's were already deep at the catcher position in the minor leagues and seemingly set for several years at the major league level with Kurt Suzuki, Oakland couldn't pass on the opportunity to acquire Norris when negotiating with the Nationals. With his ability to hit for power and get on-base, Norris projects as an above-average offensive catcher. If he is able to continue to improve his work behind the plate, he could be an All-Star level player in the big leagues at his peak.
Although Norris saw plenty of playing time at the Double-A level last season, it isn't automatic that the A's will send him to Triple-A to start the 2012 season. If Landon Powell returns to the organization as a non-roster player, the A's will have four catchers with big league experience (Suzuki, Powell, Josh Donaldson and Anthony Recker) ahead of Norris on the depth chart. The A's could make a deal involving one of those catchers to make room for Norris in Sacramento. Wherever Norris does play next season, he will see the majority of the playing time behind homeplate.
Even if Norris does begin the 2012 season in Double-A, he is likely to spend a significant part of the year at the Triple-A level. A September call-up is a strong possibility for the Kansas native, and depending on how his season goes and whether the A's hold onto or trade Suzuki, Norris could be a candidate for the 2013 A's Opening Day roster.