Padres Editorial: Hedges Who? Derek Norris is the Catcher of San Diego’s Future

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Mandatory Credit: UT San Diego
Mandatory Credit: UT San Diego

Derek Norris is a 26-year-old small town boy from Goddard, Kansas. He is now in his fourth season in the Majors and his first with the San Diego Padres after three years in Oakland. Derek Norris was traded to the San Diego Padres in the offseason along with RHP Seth Streich for RHP Jesse Hahn and RHP R.J. Alvarez. Derek Norris is still on his rookie contract and is eligible for arbitration in 2016 and is not a free agent for the Padres until 2019. Derek Norris is still young, cost-controlled for the next four seasons, and is hands down the Padres catcher of the future.

Derek Norris had a solid three years with the Oakland Athletics and progressed greatly in both his playing time and his offensive and defensive output each year. In his rookie season in 2012 Norris had a slash line of .201/.276/.349 in 60 games played which was a good for a WAR of 0.8.

In 2013 Norris had a slash line of .246/.345/.409 in 98 games played for a WAR of 1.7. In his final year in Oakland in 2014 Norris had a slash line of .270/.361/.403 in 127 games played which included a 3 WAR season as well as the first all-star appearance of his budding career.

Since being traded to the San Diego Padres Norris has taken his game to a whole new level. So far in 74 games Norris has a slash line of .246/.293/.446. a career high of eleven home runs in only half the season and finally a WAR of 2.4 which puts him on pace for a 5 WAR season. It is clear that Norris is reaching new heights with his offensive output with the Padres but he has also greatly advanced his defensive output on top of that. He has more than doubled his career high caught stealing numbers and has also greatly improved his defensive runs saved as well as other advanced metrics such as pitch framing.

The Padres got Norris, an all-star catcher with an even higher ceiling, for what amounted to a middle of the rotation starter. Some wondered what was wrong with Norris given the low price he was traded for. There were many questions about his defense but he has proven all these critics wrong with a transition to the National League and the best year of his career. Up to this point in the year Norris has produced more than three times the value of Jesse Hahn by WAR; the main piece that went back to Oakland in the trade.

With all this talk of Derek Norris’ place on the team and his future value to the Padres, there is still the nagging question of what place Austin Hedges has on the Padres for the long term. Hedges was brought up for the first time earlier on the year and so far has proven his defensive value to the team but has left a lot to be desired offensively. In limited playing time this year Hedges has a slash line of .105/.103/.211 in only 40 plate appearances in 17 games played. So far he has produced a negative WAR of -0.2. Where he has truly shined is in his defensive play with a defensive runs scored number a third of Derek Norris’ in 54 fewer games. He has also outshone Norris in several advanced metrics such as pitch framing.

Despite his defensive value to the team, Hedges offensive struggles have only proven the case for Derek Norris. With his much improved defensive skills (skills that should still improve) and his consistent offensive skills over the course of his career, Norris has already won over the city of San Diego and proven his place as the Catcher of the future. Austin Hedges is still young, cost-controlled, and may still have a bright future in Major League Baseball but at least in San Diego, this is Derek Norris’ team. Whether Hedges stays on as a minor leaguer, remains the backup catcher going forward, or gets traded to another team, remains to be seen, but Derek Norris has already earned his place as the catcher of the future for the San Diego Padres.

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