Three years ago, Derek Norris was a highly-regarded catcher in the Washington Nationals system. Known more for his bat than for his glove, he was battling injuries and scuffling at the plate in the High-A Carolina League.
Norris was subsequently traded to Oakland and broke into the big leagues with the A’s last summer, where he appeared in 60 games. This season the right-handed hitter is splitting time behind the plate with left-handed-hitting John Jaso.
Norris remains an unfinished product. The raw power is there — as are improved plate discipline and defensive skills. What’s eluded him so far are consistent performances. His home run jumpstarted the A’s to a win on Tuesday night, but overall he is hitting just .216/.340/.336 in 141 plate appearances.
Norris talked about his development when the A’s visited Fenway Park earlier this season.
David Laurila: When I first interviewed you, in July 2010, the emphasis was on turning you into a better defensive catcher. How did you go about accomplishing that?
Derek Norris: I worked on balancing everything out, instead of being behind the plate thinking about my previous at bat, or my at bat ahead. I had to get to a point where I could focus on my defense, and once defense was over, focus on my offense. I had to balance my game out that way.
It actually flip-flopped for awhile — my hitting was down and my defense was up. Now I feel I’ve gotten to a point where it’s about 50/50.
DL: Three years ago, did you realize you were taking your at bats behind the plate?
DN: I probably wasn’t as smart as I am now. Not with my youth and inexperience. Some stubbornness played into it as well. I didn’t know it, but at the same time, I did kind of know it.
DL: You had recently received instruction from Ivan Rodriguez. Who have you learned from since that time?
DN: I obviously don’t have a guy like Pudge Rodiguez as a mentor here, but I’m taking what he taught me, and what some of the guys with Washington taught me, and combining it with the different views guys here have taught me. Bob Melvin was a catcher, as was Darren Bush, our bullpen coach. They’ve helped me out quite a bit. I’ve taken all of that and combined it into my own style of play.
DL: What are you focusing on now?
DN: Everything. I’m never going to be the type of guy who is content with where I am. I’m always striving to be better defensively, offensively, as a leader, as a teammate — all facets of the game. There’s no one thing that really sticks out in my mind where I could sit here and say, “Yeah, I especially need to work on this.”
DL: When we first spoke, you were viewed as a power hitter. Do you see yourself that way today?
DN: I consider myself a power guy, but not a home-run hitter. I’m the type of guy who is going to go out there and hit some doubles for you; when I get into one now and again it will go out for a home run. But I’m just sticking with my line-drive approach. When I get fly-ball conscious is when I tend to fall into trouble.
Every new year that comes along, you’re going to make adjustments to your body and the game, and how people are going to pitch to you. I’m more of a guy who uses all fields, instead of just being a dead-pull type of hitter. It’s paid off for me.
DL: Are you a big film guy?
DN: Not of myself, no. I’ll watch video of our starting pitcher, or their starting lineup, but I’m not big on what I see of myself on film [as a hitter]. Sometimes that gets me in trouble, so I usually just ask our hitting coach and use his eyes for my check points to make sure everything stays on track. Defensively, I’ll watch my footwork on film to see if my checkpoints are staying in line when I’m throwing to bases.
DL: What about preparing for opposing teams?
DN: I have tons of information. Anything I need, our video guy provides me with. My scouting reports, which I do every day, are pretty in-depth. I try to study them as much as I can, so those guys out on the mound don’t have to worry about it.
DL: You had to learn new pitchers when you came over from Washington. What was that experience like?
DN: It was definitely a lot to go from catching guys I knew to knowing none of the guys I was catching. But there are some very talented pitchers here — a lot of young, talented pitchers — and we’ve gotten to the point where we’re on the same page. They’re doing their jobs, which makes my job a lot easier. When I do my homework, that makes their jobs a lot easier.
DL: What is like working with John Jaso?
DN: I wouldn’t go as far as to say we’re best friends, but we have a good relationship. Any time either of us has a question for one another, we’re more than willing to help each other out. We definitely bring different talents to the table. Right now we’re platooning, and that’s working out for both of us; we’re both getting decent playing time. He’s a good player.
DL: Health was an issue three years ago. Did that hinder your development?
DN: I think it actually taught me more than it hurt me. It got to the point where I maybe played a little bit banged up and didn’t do as well I hoped. But I played through it and went through a lot of adversity, and that made me mentally stronger. Without that, I don’t think I’d be where I am today.
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