Derek Norris was a few months into a .210/.367/.446, 17 double, 20 home run campaign at Double-A Harrisburg in the Washington Nationals' system in 2011 when the Nats' Director of Player Development, Doug Harris, talked to Minors and Majors host Grant Paulsen that July about the then-22-year-old backstop's developlement behind the plate.
"I think he's made significant strides this year,' Harris said. "One, his body is in tremendous shape. His athleticism is very good for the position. He's received extremely well and he's done a really nice job calling and managing games."
When the Nationals' '07 4th Round pick's fourth season in the Nats' system ended, he made his second trip to the Arizona Fall League, the so-called finishing school for the game's top prospects.
In his first run in the AFL in 2010, Norris posted a .278/.403/.667 line with five doubles, two triples and four home runs in 16 games and 67 plate appearances. The second time through, the 6'0'', 210 lb right-handed hitting and throwing catcher put up a .276/.367/.382 line with two doubles and two home runs in 21 games and 90 PAs.
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo talked to reporters about Norris that winter, relaying what he heard from his scouts in Arizona, including his father, who was out there to watch the Nationals' prospects.
The reports on Norris were good, assuaging some of the concerns about the catcher's performance at the plate in the minors in 2011.
"From the word out there," Rizzo said, "and we've got many, many guys out there covering us, all of our scouts are out there, my dad's out there for every game and he's sees us play every time they go out there, and Norris is catching and throwing extremely well. The pitchers love throwing to him. He's swinging the bat extremely well right now."
Rizzo was asked about any concerns with Norris' offensive production, specifically the .210 AVG in 104 games and 423 plate appearances that season.
"A [.210] batting average raised some eyebrows and was a concern to us, we're just trying to figure out why?" Rizzo admitted.
"We've spoken to our hitting coordinators, our hitting coaches and that type of thing," Rizzo said. "It was one of those things that I think he got into a real rut." Rizzo said Norris might have been trying too hard to swing his way out of it. "He kind of got into a hole and couldn't climb his way out and tried to go 5 for 5 with every at bat and kind of dug a deeper hole for [himself].
"But his other peripherals were good. His power was as good as we've ever seen it, and again, his catch and throw skills have dramatically improved. It's a testament to our player development, Doug Harris, and specifically Bob Boone and Pat Corrales have worked diligently with this guy on his defensive side of the game."
"We know [Norris] can hit," Rizzo continued. "We know he's got power, he's a high on base percentage guy. He's got a short compact stroke. We know he can hit. Package that with a plus arm, and now his feet are working, he's blocking pitches and pitchers love throwing to him. That's a really exciting package for us going into next season."
Rizzo made those comments in October of 2011. Baseball America released their list of the Top 10 Prospects in the Nationals' organization a few weeks later. Norris was no.9 on the list as the top backstop in the system.
On December 23, 2011, Norris was traded to the Oakland A's as part of the package that netted Gio Gonzalez, along with left-hander Tommy Milone, who threw eight scoreless against the Nationals last night, right-hander Brad Peacock, who's since been traded to the Houston Astros and right-hander A.J. Cole, who came back to the Nats a year later in the three-way Michael Morse trade with the Athletics and Seattle Mariners.
Norris made his major league debut with the A's in 2012, posting a .201/.276/.349 line with eight doubles and seven home runs in 60 games and 232 plate appearances. In 98 games and 308 PAs in 2013, the then-24-year-old Norris put up a .246/.345/.409 line.
After going 2 for 4 in last night's 8-0 A's win, in his first game against the Nationals who drafted him out of Goddard High School in Goddard, Kansas with the 130th pitch in the 4th Round of the 2007 Draft, Norris, 25, who has a .384/.464/.534 line with five doubles and two triples after 27 games and 84 PAs this season, and is finally hitting right-handed pitching (.417/.500/.611 in 42 PAs vs RHP, up from a .149/.261/.184 line in 135 PAs vs RHP in 2013 and a .195/.281/.350 line in 139 PAs vs RHP in 2012; h/t to Athletics Nation), told reporters including MLB.com's Jane Lee that he was happy to have a chance to show the Nats what they traded away:
Norris: "You wanna show them, this is what you’re missing. Not in a drastic, blatant manner, but showing them this is what you coulda had."— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) May 10, 2014