Catcher Derek Norris, one of the four top prospects traded last week and considered one of the highest-rated backstops not yet in the majors, believes he can contribute right now with his new team, the Oakland Athletics.
Norris has been the prized possession of the Nationals' revamped minor league system, and each season has continued to develop his defense. Norris has jumped from Single-A Potomac Nationals to the Double-A Harrisburg Senators, working on his ability to call games and his patience at the plate.
Most recently, Norris put together a very impressive run in the Arizona Fall League. Batting .276, Norris smacked two doubles, two homers and 11 RBIs in 21 games. Norris said his swing was back to being "free and easy" with the Scottsdale Scorpions, quickly erasing doubts that his .210 average with the Senators was anything more than an aberration. He still is a walk-inducing machine and has the power to take mistake pitches out of the yard at any time.
But there is no mistaking that getting traded came as a bit of a shock when you have only known one team.
"It is kind of hard to put a finger on (how I feel) because it still really hasn't sunk in yet," Norris said. "I am excited about the new opportunity. I have a clean slate. Obviously, they liked me. I thank the Nationals for everything they gave me. (But) it is upsetting, you want to be with the team that drafted you and gave you a chance."
"From what I hear from Oakland and what I hear from my agent is it sounds like a great opportunity for me. As a little kid, you want to make it as a major league baseball player and where ever I can do that it is my goal."
So what kind of player are the Oakland A's getting? With all of his experience, how is Norris a better player this year versus last season?
"Maturity, just by playing in games," Norris said. "(I now have) more of an understanding of the game and how to go about controlling your pitching staff, how to contribute by not trying to do too much. (I know it is about) not trying to be the superstar, hitting 40 home runs a year. (It is about) making your role and sticking to that role, not under doing it and not over doing it."
Norris started playing pro baseball in the Washington system at 18. Now he has the knowledge, experience and what he learned from the Nationals to take to his new club.
"They brought me from a ballplayer to somebody that is a little more polished," Norris said on his time with the Nationals. "I credit them for everything. All the guys and coaches could not have done any more to prepare me to be where I am at."
Norris said that building confidence through that on-field experience makes him a different ballplayer today.
"For me, I know I can hit and I know I can catch," Norris said. "I just need to put it all together. It seems like at some point I can hit and my catching will be all off. Then, my catching will be sharp and my hitting will be a little off. I need to find a way to combine them, and we will see where that takes me."
But as for his Nationals time, Norris said will always remember his first professional game with the Washington organization, as well as Bryce Harper's call-up to Harrisburg and Stephen Strasburg's start where they broke the attendance record.
Looking at Oakland, Norris remembers as a kid watching Matt Stairs and Jason Giambi crushing home runs. Those are really his only memories of the A's because he didn't get to watch too many Oakland games growing up in southeastern Kansas.
To that end, Norris will be reunited with his best friend, right-hander and former Wichita State Shocker, Travis Banwart, who pitches for their Triple-A Sacramento RiverCats. Banwart told Norris the A's are a quality organization that treats their players well.
Along with knowing Banwart so well, going to Oakland will be made easier thanks to having Brad Peacock, Tommy Milone and A.J. Cole alongside. Milone and Peacock agreed that having guys close by that they recognize will ease the transition.
Norris also believes that now with a different coaching staff working with him, a new set of eyes will help him as a player.
"Sometimes it just takes somebody on the outside, somebody new to say something and all of a sudden, something clicks," Norris said. "You never really know. That is what I am hoping for."