News from Nats Town: Derek Norris named top hitter in Single-A Baseball

022508-207_derek_norris_cJonathon Mayo of MLB.com reports that Nationals prospect Derek Norris was named the Top Class-A hitter by MiLBY. The MILBY award for “Best Hitter annually” rewards the top hitter in each division of minor league baseball.

 

“It’s a mental grind,” the 20-year-old Norris said. “If you have an at-bat where you think you should’ve done better, you have to shut it out and focus on your pitching staff. If you’re not out there supporting your pitchers, you’re not going to win too many ballgames. If you’re going to be a good Major League player, you have to be an all-around player.”

It certainly seemed like Norris was able to let at-bats go quickly. Besides, there weren’t too many to dwell on. Norris was a mid- and postseason All-Star as well as being named the South Atlantic League’s Most Outstanding Major League Prospect. That’s because he finished second in home runs with 23 and fourth in RBIs with 84. He was second in total bases (224) and fifth in slugging percentage (.513). As impressive as all of those numbers are, the ones that stand out the most are those not typical for his age at this level: 90 walks and a league-leading .413 on-base percentage.

“He’s a professional hitter, a very advanced young hitter with regard to approach and plate discipline,” Nationals farm director Doug Harris said. “He knows his swing. You don’t know where his power will go. He’ll use the whole field and take what the pitcher gives him. You don’t see that from a young hitter.”

Analysis:

Derek Norris went from a good prospect in 2008, to a great one in 2009. The Washington Nationals have been careful with his development, giving the young 20-year-old an opportunity to grow at each level, a privilege which is often awarded to young catchers. Norris has responded very well, showing unique maturity in his plate patience, and strong power from the right side.

As stated above, Norris smacked 23 home runs last year and drove in 84. He lead the league in On-Base percentage at .413 and slugged an impressive .513. For Norris, 2009 was his third year of professional baseball. After putting up rough numbers as an 18 year old in rookie-ball in 2007, he bounced back in 2008 at Short Season Vermont batting .278/.444/.463.

In 2009 the slugging catcher seamlessly made the transition from shorts seaon Vermont to A Hagerstown. While Norris’s BB% dropped form 21.7 in 2008 to 17.1% in 2009, and his K% rose from 24.7% to 26.5% his Isolated power jumped from 1.85 in 2008 to .227 in 2009. His wOBA rose slightly from .413 to .417 and his wRC jumped from 56.0 to 101.6.

While the Nationals continue to develop Norris at the Catching position, it may make more sense to try and have him learn new positions in 2010. Washington is currently grooming the future of the catching position for current backstop Jesus Flores. Flores, 25, has shown strong defensive ability in his big league experience so far, and is likely to stay put as the back stop. The Nationals even brought in future hall-of-fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez to mentor Flores defensively. The Nationals are also likely to draft potential filled catcher Bryce Harper with their number one overall pick in 2010. While it’s unclear if Harper will be a catcher in the majors, his athletic potential presence leads one to believe that the future of the catching position is secure.

The Nationals could try to change Norris to a first-baseman and have him compete for the future spot at that position with Chris Marrero. Marrero was once considered the top bat in the Nationals farm system, but after being stuck at High-A Potomac for three seasons, Norris looks like he may eclipse the former first round pick.

 

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