Sabtu, 26 November 2011

Derek Norris is Awesome

There's not real rhyme or reason to this post, I just feel like writing about a prospect with whom many of you may not be familiar, and whom Baseball-Intellect called 'one of the best prospects you've never heard of': Nationals catcher Derek Norris.

The interesting thing about Norris is that, as much as I love him, he is seriously short on classic tools for a legitimate prospect: He's hit .249 across the low majors, hasn't displayed any speed at all, and is generally rated lukewarm by scouts and scouting organizations: he was the #72 prospect by Baseball America before 2011.

Norris was rather unheralded out of high school, when he was selected by the Nationals in the fourth round with the 130th overall pick in the 2007 draft. Since then he's done nothing but put up great numbers.

Overshadowed by super prospects Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, et al, Norris has quietly put together quite a resume for a 22-year-old catcher. Here is what we can see in him:

Offensively, there is a lot to like. He has outstanding bat speed and ridiculous recognition: as a result he punishes pitches left up. He puts that recognition to good use by being one of the most patient hitters in professional baseball. In 2011 he only hit .210, but he had a .367 OBP. In 2010 he hit .235 but had a .419 OBP. The cause of this is an insane walk rate: in 2011 at Double-A Harrisburg he walked 18.2% of the time. The only man in MLB close to that this year was Jose Bautista.

His power is impressive as well: He cleared 20 homers for the second time in his pro career in 2011, adding to his career SLG of .458. Between the insane plate discipline and the plus power, Norris profiles as a solid offensive contributor: he had a 129 wRC+ in 2011.

His one weakness at the plate is a poor ability to make solid contact: he is, as mentioned, a career .249 hitter. When combined with his batters' eye and his power, however, if he hits .230, it won't matter, because he's still capable of an .800 OPS, assuming he continues to develop.

He has more question marks defensively. His arm is outstanding, and he has a career 47% caught-stealing rate, including 40% in 2011 at Double-A. His arm strength is moderate, but he has a quick release and an accurate throw that will make him dangerous to run on at the major league level.

Behind the plate he has his shortcomings. His game-calling has not drawn rave reviews, and he allows his share of passed balls (15 in 2011), but it should be noted that he has basically learned the position as a professional -- he was converted to catcher in his senior year, and he has made enormous strides.

Most recently, Norris has been hitting in the Arizona Fall League, putting up a .276/.367/.382 line in 21 games.

Norris will turn 23 in February and possibly start 2012 at Triple-A, but that's not certain, and neither is what type of player he will be at the major league level. With his arm and the progress he's made in the field, he should be a serviceable or better defensive catcher, and offensively, I find it more than likely that he will be an above-average hitter.

In any case, Norris' story is one that bears watching in the coming years.

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