Catching prospect Derek Norris is primed to begin spring training with the Nationals in Viera, Fla., next week. He will arrive at the facility a few days prior to the mandatory Feb. 15 report date. Last week, Norris was one of seven players invited to join the Nationals spring training workouts at Space Coast stadium.
"It is always good to get invited to spring training especially after having a little bit of a down year last season," said Norris, who batted just .235 in 94 games for Single-A Potomac last season.
Norris fought through a wrist injury (hamate surgery) and recovery from getting hit in the head by a pitch not once, but twice in the same season (he only went down once). Norris excelled at the end of last season and helped win the Arizona Fall League as a member of the Scottsdale Scorpions.
He said he benefited from the extra at-bats and games after postseason had concluded with Potomac.
"It was definitely a battle all of last year through the injuries," Norris remembered. "I finally felt better at the end of (fall instructional league). My wrist had healed and I got rid of the shadows from when I got hit in the head. That is when I felt 'this is where I want to be'."
His hitting is right on target after quality batting practices last week. "Four days ago, I worked with (Nationals hitting coach) Rick Eckstein in Florida," Norris reported. "Everything looked good."
Norris said he is in better shape than he was last season and comes to camp without the baggage of a nagging hand injury.
"I am healthy," Norris said. "I have lost weight. I am at the lowest weight I have ever been in pro ball. It is allowing me to be lighter on my feet. I lift weights for reps rather than heavy weight. I have added a healthy diet. I have eaten fast food only once in the last two and a half months. A good diet helps with stamina. I bought a sauna for the house and that burns off 1,000 calories in 20 minute sessions."
Syracuse manager Randy Knorr said that Norris has all the tools to be a big league catcher. the Nationals just want him to find the defensive position that feels most comfortable to him to receive the ball behind the plate.
"It is going to be a work in progress," Norris acknowledged. "I am definitely headed in the right direction. I got a little more comfortable. I am sitting back on my heels a little bit more. I have worked on the flexibility in my hips. It is a little bit different position and I feel is has freed up my receiving behind the plate. It has worked out well."
Just like at-bats help improve a hitter's consistency, so too will be receiving in more games this year for Norris.
"It is just a matter of catching in games," Norris said. "Five hundred bullpens help, but I want to catch in games. I am looking for 100-plus games this season. Every year, I get a little bit better. If I can make another big step in 2011, I feel people will notice how much better I have gotten."