A's Norris Breaks Through After Focusing On Defense

OAKLAND—During the early years of Derek Norris' career, the questions swirled about whether the converted third baseman could really become a catcher. He had the tools, he just seemed to have trouble putting on the polish.

Norris knew there was a problem, and he found the solution in his head.

"I think it's just a matter of before, I was a hitting catcher," Norris said. "Now I consider myself a catcher who can hit. Putting that priority before the hitting is what really turned it around for me; taking more pride in what I do behind there."

By the time he showed up in Oakland for spring training this year, after being part of the Gio Gonzalez trade with the Nationals, there were no questions about his defense.

"I didn't see him before, so I didn't know what he had looked like," A's farm director Kieth Lieppman said. "What we saw looked like a fairly close to finished product. He had that combination of skills—he received well, threw well and had good relationships with the pitchers."

Norris, 23, began the season in Triple-A, under the tutelage of Sacramento manager Darren Bush, a former catcher who helped with the polishing process. He earned a call to the majors on June 21, where he took much of the starting job from incumbent Kurt Suzuki. Rather than make for a difficult transition, Suzuki helped tutor Norris and teach him about the finer points of catching.

In a surprising series of events, the A's acquired George Kottaras on July 30 and optioned Norris, then three days later traded Suzuki to the Nationals and made Norris and Kottaras their catching tandem. And, that seems the plan for the future.

"He has the ability to be an all-around catcher," said A's manager Bob Melvin, a former catcher himself. "He's going to receive, he's going to block and throw, and he's definitely going to hit."

The 6-foot, 210-pound Norris hit .201/.276/.349 with seven homers and 34 RBIs in 209 big league at-bats, and one of those homers was a walk-off against the Giants. At Sacramento, he hit .271/.329/.477 with nine homers in 218 at-bats. The A's believe the average will increase with experience.

Now the A's will be watching to see if Norris grows into the star that Melvin predicts he will become.

A's Acorns

• Righthander Michael Ynoa has been impressive during instructional league, Lieppman said. Ynoa has been hampered by health problems during the first three years after signing for a huge bonus out of the Dominican Republic.

Daniel Robertson, a high school shortstop who was expected to convert to third base, has been so impressive at short in instructs that the A's plan to keep him at the position and see how he develops.