When the San Diego Padres were set to acquire Derek Norris, my immediate thoughts were of the Kansas City Royals running wild on him in the American League play-offs last season. I instantly wondered if this was a good idea. I knew Derek Norris could hit, but wasn’t too sure about his defensive abilities. Losing Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera, via trades, left the Padres in need of a catcher. Norris was immediately snatched up from the Oakland Athletics for Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez.
The first interview I saw with Derek Norris in spring training he indicated that he used the off-season to work on footwork and body positioning. Norris at the age of 26, can easily make the adjustments needed to be a successful defensive catcher in the major leagues. His bat is legit and the intangibles he bring to the game are off the charts. No statistician or baseball analytical enthusiast can gauge these things. I will always contest that ball players are best judged on the field, rather than in a book.
In the begining of the season, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francicso Giants tried to run at will against the Padres and Derek Norris. What resulted is, nine runners gunned out attempting to steal. Only three away from what Norris threw out all of last season in total. Norris has thrown out runners at a 35% rate so far this season. That is an excellent rate as the league average is 28%. In 20 games this season and 184.2 innings, Derek Norris has committed only one error and allowed two passed balls. Compare that to last year where Norris threw out runners at a 17% rate, and allowed 60 stolen bases.
Clearly Derek Norris has picked up his game as a defensive player. It was surely difficult for him entering a new team and learning a new pitching staff. Kudos to him for making the necessary adjustments. His bat has not suffered in a new league as Norris is currently hitting .329 with a homer and 14 runs batted in so far this season. He has been one of the Padres most productive players.
The man has entrenched himself in the hearts of Padres fans for his work ethic and hustle. Two very under rated characteristics in the game today. You want a gamer like Norris as your catcher. He commands respect on the field, by the way he plays, rather than what he says. Norris is signed long-term to the San Diego Padres, he is not due for free agency until 2019. Norris along with Wil Myers, James Shields, Matt Kemp, Will Middlebrooks and Tyson Ross are all signed for the three seasons at least. A very solid nucleus of players to build a contender around indeed.
With Austin Hedges starting to swing the bat with some authority in AAA El Paso with the Chihuahuas, the Padres have a nice problem. Hedges is considered a can’t miss prospect who could probably play everyday in the major leagues right now, defensively. Unfortunately for Hedges he has to swing the bat too, and his career minor league numbers of .257/.317/.392 have been of a concern to the Padres. Hedges has major upside, probably more than Derek Norris. However, upside doesn’t mean anything. It’s all about execution and consistency in this game. That is something we just have not seen from this young backstop.
Right now Hedges value is trending in the correct direction. He keeps hitting like he has so far in El Paso, then teams will remove that label as defensive catcher only. The man is 22, so anything can really happen with him. The ability of Hedges is so enticing that the Padres are sure to hesitate in making a decision on which catcher to roll with in the future. It’s going to be that age old question of whether you go with the player who has proven his worth opposed to one who has that upside. That high ceiling label given to prospects can be so hypnotizing to a franchise. Players with flashy tools will always get the attention of the coaches and fans, but steady players are what wins baseball games. That is just a fact of baseball life. A team full of superstars never amounts to anything. Just ask the Dodgers the last 25 years. Unfortunately for the Padres they might have finally figured that out.
So which catcher would you rather see as the catcher of the future for the Padres? I am sure the majority will vote for Norris, as he has endeared himself to many fans in the San Diego area. Although in my opinion the more people see of Austin Hedges, the more you will like him. His quick release and footwork behind the dish is something that just can’t be taught. So chime in on the comments section and let us know who you would rather see as the catcher for the next few seasons. Go Padres!