The Oakland A’s have had a lot of surprising success stories this year when it comes to their players. Most of these surprises are on the pitching staff since the starting rotation and bullpen relievers have been switched and moved around so frequently. Pitchers like Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz have surprised everyone by successfully transitioning from long relievers to starters and becoming pivotal additions to the starting rotation. However, catcher Derek Norris is ultimately the the biggest surprise of 2014 so far do to his increased production at the plate and overall improved offensive skills.
Norris has always been a great defensive catcher. Last season, he only made three errors in the 71 games he started, which resulted in a .995 fielding percentage. The reason why Norris is such a big surprise this year is because his offensive skills have greatly improved since last season.
This season Norris was selected to platoon as catcher with John Jaso. However, as the season has gone on, Norris has earned more and more time at the plate. Norris currently has the Oakland A’s third highest batting average with a .294 and the second highest OPS with a .879. For the month of May, he had a .367 batting average, and, in his last seven games, he has hit .400 with one home run and four hits in ten at-bats.
He is striking out less and walking a lot more. Norris’ current walk rate is 18.8%, which is excellent. The timing for his swing has improved, and he is now able to effectively work up a pitch count. During the series in Tampa, Fl., against the Rays in late May this season, Norris was able to battle off pitch after pitch and work up a 14-pitch plate appearance. This was the longest plate appearance an Oakland A’s player had seen in almost four years. His improved batting skills has definitely helped wear down the opposing team’s bullpen as well as produce runs for the Oakland A’s.
Norris’ success so far has helped him gain recognition for the 2014 All-Star game. The last time All-Star voting numbers were released, Norris was third in the race for American League catcher. Even though it is unlikely he will make the team, the mere fact that he has made the top three is impressive.
Norris knows that he will need to work on hitting against right handed pitchers if he wants to shake the platoon role and earn a permanent spot as the Athletics’ starting catcher. However, he seems to have already improved. Last year he batted .149 against righties and so far this year he has a .234 against right handed pitchers. If he continues to work hard, Norris could become a quality, well-rounded starting catcher for the Oakland A’s.
As a side note, let me also add that Norris has recently shown that he has a sense of humor to go along with his talent as a baseball player. Let me introduce to you Norris – Norris Gump. Enjoy.