Every Monday I take a look at a prospect who could be arriving in the big leagues soon, and could have an impact on your fantasy team in short order. Today's prospect is no different, as he could potentially provide top 10 level production at his position once he is in the Majors. That prospect is Athletics' C Derek Norris.
Weight: 210 lbs.
On 40-man roster: Yes
Norris was drafted in the 4th round of the 2007 draft out of a high school in Kansas. He signed with the Nationals, and appeared in 37 games for their rookie league affiliate that season. He hit just .203 during that first season, but showed an excellent eye (25 walks in 144 PA), and some power as well (4 HR).
The Nationals moved Norris up a level per season, and continued to show an excellent batting eye and solid power. In 2008, he hit .278/.444/.463 with 10 homers in the New York-Penn League, and actually had more walks (63) than strikeouts (56). While with Hagerstown in the Sally League in 2009, Norris really emerged, hitting 23 home runs, drawing 90 walks, and posting a .516 slugging percentage. Following that season, Baseball America ranked him as the #38 prospect in all of baseball.
For 2010, the Nationals sent him to their High-A affiliate in the Carolina League, but appeared in just 94 games that year. Despite that, he still hit 12 home runs, posted an OPS of .898, and was sent to AA for the 2011 season.
His 2011 season was a bit strange looking, as he hit 20 home runs and stole 13 bases, along with posting an OPS of .813. However, he hit just .210, despite having more than 50% of his hits go for extra bases (38/70). Following the 2011 season, Norris was included in the Gio Gonzalez trade and sent to Oakland.
The Athletics sent Norris to AAA Sacramento to start the season, and he has been hitting extremely well so far. Through Saturday, he had a slash line of .280/.320/.486, with 7 home runs and 32 RBI. Also oddly, he seems to have been taking substantially less walks, as he has just 13 so far in 194 at bats.
What Is Stopping Him From Contributing Right Now?
Norris is currently blocked at the Major League level by incumbent catcher Kurt Suzuki. Suzuki is under contract through 2013, along with an option for the 2014 season. Suzuki seems like a great trade candidate before the trade deadline, especially given that he is under contract for another season at a reasonable price. That said, there's no real reason to trade Suzuki just yet. This is Norris' first season above AA, and he could likely use some seasoning to round him out. His performance in AAA thus far has been solid, but I personally would like to see a bit more before handing over the job to him. This is a player who hit a bunch of extra base hits in 2011, but also managed to hit just .210 on the season. He has historically shown a great ability to take walks, but appears to have changed something so far this year.
What Could He Do When He Gets to the Majors?
If Norris were going to be playing his home games in a neutral stadium, I could see him being a 20 homer bat in the Majors with a solid batting average. (think around .275). However, playing half his games I the cavernous Coliseum is likely to hurt his power production, and I could see him settling in closer to 15 homeruns a year, with a slightly lower batting average.
When Does He Seem Likely to Arrive In The Majors?
Barring a midseason trade of Suzuki, I think that Norris ends up the season with a callup once rosters expand after the end of the AAA season. He will likely be ready to assume the starting role in 2013, which could lead to a trade by then as well.
There currently are very few catching prospects at the higher levels of the minors who will provide at least solid value for fantasy owners. Norris is one of these prospects, and could be worth a flier whenever he is called up for the first time. Once he is established in the Majors, I think he ends up as a fairly consistent top 10 catcher each season.
MLB Depth Charts