Nine years after they drafted Derek Norris out of Goddard High School in Goddard, Kansas in the 4th Round of the ‘07 Draft, the Washington Nationals reacquired the now-27-year-old catcher in a trade with the San Diego Padres on Friday night.
In need of a backstop with Wilson Ramos injured and working his way back as a free agent this winter, Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo was in the market for a catcher, and found a veteran that he and the organization are familiar with having drafted and developed Norris early in his pro career.
In an interview on MLB Network Radio’s Hot Stove show on Saturday afternoon, Norris told hosts Jim Memolo and Jeff Joyce that he was excited about the opportunity he’s been given to join the defending NL East champions after two seasons of work behind the plate in San Diego which saw the Padres win 74 and 68 games, respectively.
Derek Norris on Shields being called out by ownership: "It's tough... it feels like they are giving up on it." https://t.co/SpHcrJPJWJ— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) December 3, 2016
“No doubt,” Norris said. “I think any time that you have the opportunity to go to a team that’s kind of looking to win and win right now and to be a part of it, I mean it’s an honor to have that opportunity and to go back to the team that originally drafted me.”
He was also excited to be back with Rizzo, who was still an Assistant GM in D.C. when the Nats drafted Norris in 2007.
“Just having an opportunity to go to a team and a GM that seems like he’s ready to win and win now and he’s ready to do just about anything to accomplish that and you know that’s motivational for me,” Norris said.
Norris is coming off a rough campaign at the plate in which he put up a .186/.255/.328 line with 17 doubles and 14 home runs over 125 games and 458 plate appearances for the Padres.
He finished the year at -0.4 fWAR, down from 2.2, 2.6 and 2.4 in the previous three seasons.
He blamed his struggles on a slow start to the season.
In April and May, he posted a combined .179/.238/.331 line, but he bounced back with a .273/.318/.506 month of June, then struggled in a .155/.244/.251 stretch over the final three months of the season, playing just 58 games over that stretch as he ceded time to catchers Christian Bethancourt and Austin Hedges.
“I just got off to a bad start,” Norris explained in the interview on Saturday.
“I think anyone that has played this game and gone through the mental grind of each and every season, when you get off to bad starts some times, you try to go out there and you try to go 6 for  and then you end up going 0 for 4 again because you’re trying to hard to just get pure base results.
“I think that’s something that I’ve learned from and it’s going to make me a better player. People have down years, people have bad years, it happens.
“You don’t want it to happen, but it’s just part of the game and I think just getting back to the pure basics of being a line drive hitter that’s patient at the plate and not trying to do too much and I think it’s the biggest thing where it went wrong last year.”
Norris also talked about making improvements behind the plate, specifically in terms of throwing out baserunners.
In his final season with the A’s before he was traded to the Padres, Norris posted a 17% caught stealing percentage, but that jumped to 34% in 2015 and 21% last season.
He credited his pitching staff and pitching coach with helping him improve.
“Darren Balsley in San Diego really does a great job of making sure these guys are giving me good times to home to give me a chance to throw runners out,” Norris explained.
“I think that sometimes when you get a guy that’s a little slower to the plate you try to rush the throw instead of just setting your feet and making a good throw and if he’s safe, he’s safe. So I think just mentally making sure I set my feet and make a good strong accurate throw and more times than not if you make a good strong throw to second base and he’s safe, people don’t really look at you. They can understand that, ‘Okay, he didn’t have a chance to throw him out.’ But when you airmail it to center field and he takes third, no matter if he was a 1.9 to home, it’s on you, so just making sure that you’re mentally strong and controlling what you can control and throwing all the other stuff out the window.”
Norris also talked about looking forward to working with the Nationals’ pitching staff and getting to know his new team in Spring Training.
“They’re extremely talented. We had a pretty good staff when I was in Oakland to work with. We’ve had some pretty good 1-2 punches, and obviously now 1-2-3 punches now, but I’m looking forward to it, man. I’ve faced these guys quite a bit and I know in a sense, what they like to do and things that they’re really good at and things that they’re not good at and I’m just hoping to pick up on it and hopefully I can gain their trust early on and we can just get rolling and not have to go through that adjustment period.”
The plan for now, he said, was just to get ready for Spring Training. “Just making sure I’m in great shape to come in and compete for that starting job behind the plate and catch a great pitching staff.”