Name: Derek Norris
Date of Birth: February 14, 1989
Norris was originally drafted by the Washington Nationals in 2007. He was the 6th selection of the 4th Round (#130 overall) out of Goddard High School (Goddard, KS). To date, there have already been eight players from the 4th Round of the 2007 Draft to reach the Major Leagues – most notably Darwin Barney of the Cubs and Brad Mills, now of the Angels (having just been traded at the beginning of the month from Toronto) – and Norris may not be far behind in joining them.
After signing his first professional contract with the Nationals, Norris first was assigned to the organization’s Gulf Coast League affiliate to finish out the 2007 season. Norris appeared in 37 games, batting .203/.344/.382 with 4 HR and 15 RBI in 151 plate appearances. He walked 25 times, with 38 strikeouts – fairly decent plate discipline for an 18 year old.
The next season Norris was assigned to the Vermont Lake Monsters in the Low-A NY-Penn League. In 70 games he batted .278/.444/.463 with 10 HR and 38 RBI in 302 plate appearances. Once again he showed solid discipline at the plate, walking 63 times to just 56 strikeouts. Norris struggled a bit defensively, committing 10 errors in 45 games behind the plate, but he did manage to throw out 47% (23 of 49) of would-be base stealers.
2009 would prove to be a banner year for Norris, one that would put him on the prospect map. After being bumped up to Hagerstown to start the season, Norris would bat .286/.413/.513 in 540 plate appearances (126 games). He’d add 23 HR, 84 RBI, and 30 doubles – all career highs to go alongside his 125 hits. He walked 90 times and struck out 116 times. However, defense again was a concern. In 100 games behind the plate, Norris committed 18 errors and allowed 96 stolen bases (against 55 caught). Most concerning, however, were 28 passed balls.
Prior to the start of the 2010 season, he found himself listed among the game’s best, making Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect list (#38 overall). Norris was the fourth catcher to make the list, behind the Yankees’ Jesus Montero (#4), the Giants’ Buster Posey (#7), and the Indians’ Carlos Santana (#10). Norris would begin the season moving up another level, this time playing for High-A Potomac. He struggled to stay on the field, limited to just 94 games on the year. In 399 plate appearances he batted .235/.419/.419 with 12 HR and 49 RBI. He showed signs of progress behind the plate, limiting the errors to just 7 in 69 games with only 6 passed balls. He also threw out a career high 51% (29 of 57) would-be base stealers. Offensively it would prove to be a disappointing season, but the defensive improvements were a welcome sign.
Norris would once again appear on BA’s Top 100 Prospect list prior to the 2011 season. This time around his stock had fallen some, as he slipped to #72 overall. Six catchers ranked ahead of him (7 if you include Kansas City’s Wil Myers who hadn’t yet shifted 100% to the outfield and was listed as a dual-position player). Norris, now 22 years old, would find himself in Double-A for the first time. He would appear in 104 games, 95 behind the plate in Harrisburg. At the plate he’d struggle to a .210/.367/.446 line with 20 HR and 46 RBI. He’d add 77 walks and 117 strikeouts. Behind the plate he’d continue to make improvements to the defensive side of his game.
After the 2011 season he would play in the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League for the second time (he was also there the prior season). Norris would hit .276/.367/.382 in 21 games. He’d add 2 HR, 11 RBI, and 12 walks over that span and appeared in the league’s season ending Rising Stars Game.
Top Prospect Rankings
Baseball America (Top 10): 9th
MLB.com (Top 10): 5th
FanGraphs (Top 15): 9th
Seedlings to Stars (MLB Top 100): Unranked
DoD Editor Aaron Somers (Top 15): 10th
DoD Staff Writer Michael Natelli (Top 15): 12th
DoD Staff Writer Andrew Flax (Top 15): 10th
Courtesy of MLB.com:
He did show a power stroke that impressed people when he went to the Arizona Fall League [in 2010]. A top catching prospect, Norris is an on base machine, almost to his detriment. He has a good arm behind the plate, and he’s continuing to work on the other aspects of catching.
Known as a bat first catcher, Norris only lives up to the expectation consistently with his on base abilities and plate discipline. He holds a career .403 on base percentage throughout his minor league career, with 344 walks and just 421 strikeouts. He has some power potential – having twice hit 20+ HR in a season – but is an otherwise very limited hitter.
Despite some early struggles, Norris is also considered a fair defender at this point in his career. He’s known for his strong arm, having thrown out 40% of all base stealers. He does still need some work calling a game, however.
While Norris has a strong ability to get on base, he often struggles at that point as he’s generally considered a poor base runner. He’s limited from a speed standpoint and doesn’t have the instincts to compensate for that. This is one area where added experience will help, but you can’t really train someone to be faster on the basepaths.
2012 and Beyond Expectations
There has been a great deal of optimism surrounding Norris lately, with many people seemingly under the impression that he is ready to take over the backup catcher role for the Nationals this Spring. But in all likelihood, he could really be served best with additional seasoning in the minor leagues. He only has one season at Double-A or higher, and it’s fair to say that the year didn’t exactly go as hoped. His stock seems to have fallen once again.
Marc Hulet at FanGraphs had this to say about Norris’ future:
Quite honestly, Norris’ development is headed in the wrong direction and he’s in danger of falling out of the spotlight when it comes to the organization’s top prospects. He’ll have to have a bounce back season while repeating Double-A if he’s going to gain any traction in his question to become the Nationals’ backstop of the future. Expect the organization to slow his development down.
Now, I believe that Norris isn’t ready yet – despite popular opinion – but I don’t see the outlook on him being quite as dim as Marc’s opinion. Though that’s not to say that Marc was entirely wrong in his statements. Norris needs some work at the plate and needs to continue to develop behind it. At this point, he likely profiles more as the team’s backup backstop of the future than anything else. While it’s still an important role for the organization, it’s not one that will make or break a team at any level. The Nationals are lucky, however, because they have Wilson Ramos instilled as their starting catcher. Many other teams do not have such a luxury, meaning it won’t be a surprise to hear Norris’ name discussed as a possible trade chip.