Norris, Peacock Making A Smooth Transition

WEST SACRAMENTO - One of the most important things to a baseball player's success is being comfortable. A familiar face can go a long way to ensuring some level of comfort when making the transition to a new organization. Catcher Derek Norris and starter Brad Peacock have been able to utilize their familiarity with one another to get off to good starts with their new organization, the Oakland A's.

"He knows me and I know him, and I never shake him off," Brad Peacock said of his catcher, who was also his batterymate in the Washington Nationals' organization. "Whatever he calls, I trust in him."

"Coming over here, it's a first impression all over again but you have all the experience from the last five years, so that's been a plus," Derek Norris said.

The trust Peacock has in his catcher has helped the right-hander recover from a poor spring training and post a 4-1 record and 3.66 ERA in seven starts with Triple-A Sacramento. With a plus fastball, explosive curve and quality change up, Peacock has the talent to become a No. 2 or 3 starter in the big leagues – but he still has some developing to do.

"Right now, some days are better than others. His changeup is a good go-to pitch for him," River Cats' pitching coach Scott Emerson said.

"His curveball, when he's got good command, is a devastating pitch. It's an above-average major league curveball. He just has to make sure he can bring those pitches every night."

Peacock admits that the command of his knuckle-curveball, perhaps his most important pitch, isn't where it needs to be. The lack of command with that pitch has led to a 2.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio this year, which is less than ideal for a player who could be in the major leagues at some point this year. It has allowed hitters to sit on fastballs and hit .306 on balls put in play.

Peacock hasn't had a BABIP higher than .300 since he was at the High-A level in 2010, before he made an adjustment that helped him get to the big leagues last year with Washington.

Before 2011, Peacock was considered simply a thrower with above-average stuff, but he made a minor adjustment with his delivery that fast-tracked him from Double-A to the majors in the same year.

"We were wondering why I was getting hit around so hard in previous years. We just tried to change one thing and it was hiding the ball. I was hiding in my delivery and I took it into the season and I guess that was it. I had a great season last year," Peacock said.

In 2010 between High-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg, Peacock went 6-11 with a 4.50 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 26 games. Last year, after making the adjustment to hide the ball, he went 15-3 with a 2.39 ERA and 0.989 WHIP between Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. He ended up making three appearances in the big leagues – two starts – winning both his decisions with a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings. If there was a criticism to make about his first major league stint, it was that he walked six with just four strikeouts.

"Coming to a new organization, trying to impress too soon - trying to do too much too early, trying to make the club out of the shoot. You get a lot of guys in spring training who try to go as hard as they can when their body isn't ready," Emerson said of Peacock.

"Their mind might be ready but their body isn't ready. I think just a little bit of the surroundings got to him a little bit. Now, he's getting comfortable with the people of the organization, getting comfortable with himself again and things are really taking off for him."

While Peacock's ceiling is likely higher than Graham Godfrey's, Godfrey has much more major league experience, making him the likely candidate should the A's need to promote another starter in the short term. But if Peacock is able refine his command and consistently locate his put-away pitches, he could make his Oakland A's debut at some point this summer or in September when rosters expand.

"He's a competitor. I think he's done great because I don't think he's had his best stuff. But, his competitiveness and his will to win is good," Sacramento skipper Darren Bush said.

Norris has fit very well into a talented River Cats' lineup that has averaged nearly six runs a game. Through Saturday, the catcher was hitting .304/.344/.518 with four home runs and 21 driven in. His high average is a pleasant surprise for the A's, after he hit just .210 last year but still had an on-base percentage of .367.

"[I wasn't] attacking the ball good enough," Norris said.

"I think that's where I'm making my strides. Early in the count, your percentages are higher as far as getting hits. That's not what everything's about. Everything's not about getting base hits. You can't control everything, but just getting in a position to hit the ball. That's really what I'm trying to do. I'm not trying to press for hits. I'm not trying to press for home runs. Just trying to get into a good position to hit and barrel the baseball. Whatever happens, happens."

Behind the plate, Norris is making strides as well, and has been lauded by his manager, a former catcher, for his work receiving.

"I think Derek has really improved from his mindset of ‘I'm a catcher.' Opposed to ‘I'm a hitter and a catcher.' He's ultimately concerned with catching and improving," Bush said.

"He understands that ‘this is where I need to be good. I'm going to hit, but I just need to be prepared every single day with this job behind the plate. Not only is this my career, but I need to help the pitcher out in their career.' I think he's done an outstanding job."

Bush also credited Norris for his preparation habits by being diligent in his review of film and game planning. But after throwing out six of his first eight (75 percent caught rate) would-be base stealers in 2012, Norris has allowed 16-of-19 (16 percent caught rate) base stealers to reach safely since.

The A's won't rush Norris to the big leagues based on a good month and a half at Triple-A, his first time at the level. The A's are afforded the luxury of getting an adequate sample size there with Kurt Suzuki currently occupying the major league job. But many believe Norris to be the heir apparent to Suzuki, who is due $6.45 million if Oakland decides to pick up his option next season.

With Suzuki's key numbers falling in each of the last four seasons, the A's picking up that pricey option is uncertain, putting Norris in line for a chance to make the club next year and eventually become the every-day catcher.

"They're very complimentary," Norris said of his first impressions with his new organization.

"Just telling me how excited they are to have me over here. It's been nice. The coaching staff, they work with me real well. They've meshed with me real well."

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