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Posted at 10:19 AM ET, 03/ 7/2011

Is Norris the Nationals' catcher of the future?

By Dave Sheinin

After he had caught Livan Hernandez's four-inning stint in a minor league game Sunday morning, Derek Norris was collecting his things and preparing to return to the big league complex when Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo pulled him aside and grabbed his shoulder.

"Great job today," Rizzo said. "Very impressive."

"Thank you, sir," Norris said.

Minutes later, Hernandez went out of his way to praise Norris's pitch-calling and handling behind the plate.

Every spring training camp has that one young player who makes a strong impression and, even though there is no spot for him on the big league roster, leaves little doubt that his time is coming soon. In this camp, that player is Derek Norris.

"I'll tell you: He really had been one of the more impressive guys in camp," Manager Jim Riggleman said of Norris on Monday. "He came [into camp] in great shape. He really looks good at the plate. His catching is coming along. We really think he's going to be a big league catcher. ... He kind of gives you that [Josh] Willingham feeling up there as a hitter. He's kind of built like Willingham and knows the strike zone like Willingham, and we think he's going to have similar power to Willingham."

The biggest question about Norris, 22, has always been whether he had the skills to remain at catcher, or whether he would eventually be moved. But the Nationals say that is no longer a question.

"We feel like he's going to catch, period," Riggleman said. "The strides he's made with our instructors throughout the system and with Bob Boone, we're really seeing that he can catch."

But Norris almost certainly won't catch at the big league level in 2011, since he has yet to play above Class A. Last season, he was limited to 94 games at Potomac (.235/.419/.419) because of a concussion. He is likely to be sent to Class AA Harrisburg this season.

For now, Norris's path to the majors is blocked by Ivan Rodriguez, Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores, two of whom will comprise the Nationals' big league catching tandem this season. Rodriguez will almost certainly be gone by 2012, but Ramos (only 23) and Flores (26) are young enough to make for a difficult situation at some point -- which is why many observers both inside and outside the organization expect the Nationals to trade one of their catchers at some point (provided Flores proves himself healthy).

"It wasn't long ago the organization was really thin at catching -- as recently as '09," Riggleman said. "Right now ... it's an area where we're a little stronger now, but this is where we need to be. You've got to have catching depth."

By Dave Sheinin  | March 7, 2011; 10:19 AM ET
 
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Comments

Natinal fans better hope that Norris isn't the catcher of the future.

If he is, than there is no future for the Natinals.

Oh what am I talking about. There already is no future for the Natinals.

They'll be in Vegas in a decade or 2 and Senators/Natinals fans will than have been the bride-left-at-the-alter a whopping 3 times. Boy if that won't leave them more bitter and jaded than they already are.

The dagger though will be watching the O's winning year after year. The absolute final dagger though will be, not only the O's winning every year, but doing so with a new ownership group since Angelos is getting ready to sell.

Posted by: P00PY_MCP00P | March 7, 2011 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Poopy we know were you live over on RI. And those guys will helps us jump up and down on you when the Nats field a better record than the O's. The O's can't buy pencils and now? The injury bug is already on Matusz ... hahahahahahahahahahahahaahahah

Posted by: periculum | March 7, 2011 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Norris is the catcher of the future. He's in better shape than all the catcher's in camp. But he may still be 2 of catching 100+ games away.

Posted by: periculum | March 7, 2011 11:22 AM | Report abuse

It sure was nice when you could read (and contribute to) an informed baseball dialogue in the comments of NJ posts. This is insufferable now--time to stop reading comments altogether.

Posted by: natinbeantown | March 7, 2011 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I read that the Astros are looking for a catcher. I wouldn't want to part with Flores or Ramos at this point. I wish the Astros could be convinced to trade for Pudge, with the Nats paying part of his salary. That would give us a chance to see both Ramos and Flores on the big league team, to let them battle it out for playing time.

+1/2St.

Posted by: kevincostello | March 7, 2011 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Does the name Brian Downing ring a bell?

Catcher converted to OF, great on-base skills with pop; not blazing speed but did not clog up base paths and hit lead-off for some very good Angel teams in the 70s and 80s.

I sense this kind of career track coming for Norris.

Posted by: chiefwj | March 7, 2011 11:49 AM | Report abuse

chiefwj - good pull on Downing, just goes to show there always options to get a bat into the lineup

Posted by: 3B11 | March 7, 2011 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I would expect Flores to go to Syracuse to shake the rust off. Later this year Pudge will be gone and Flores will be brought up. Norris is at least a year away. Who knows what will happen by then, but this is a lot better situation than Juan Nieves platooning with a gimpy Josh Bard as happened late in 2009.

Posted by: gibson0 | March 7, 2011 11:58 AM | Report abuse

gibson0-

Were you purposely trying to elicit one more

"WHO?!?!?!? Wil Nieves!"

by calling him Jaun Nieves?

+1/2St.

Posted by: kevincostello | March 7, 2011 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Poopy must real bad because his boy weiters has been a flop!

Posted by: skinfan2k | March 7, 2011 12:29 PM | Report abuse

You got me, Kevin. My mistake. How could I forget that ad?!!

Posted by: gibson0 | March 7, 2011 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Switch a catching prospect to the outfield in order to get his bat into the lineup? That's crazy talk. Next you'll be saying they should move Bryce Harper from catcher to outfield. Oh wait...

Posted by: FeelWood | March 7, 2011 12:32 PM | Report abuse

If the Astros make a good offer, I think we should listen for all of our catchers, Norris included.

Posted by: markfd | March 7, 2011 12:43 PM | Report abuse

I thought the talk was Morris at 1st, that he could block well enough to play there.

Posted by: alex35332 | March 7, 2011 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Poopy must real bad because his boy weiters has been a flop!

Posted by: skinfan2k | March 7, 2011 12:29 PM
------------------------------

Bahahahahaha. Yeah a gold-glove caliber (look at the stats) catcher who in his 2nd season put up average, not great, hitting stats.

Yeah, talk about a flop..........

Posted by: P00PY_MCP00P | March 7, 2011 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Nice to be building depth at catcher. Next year I'd expect Norris to push either Flores or Ramos on the trading block, likely Flores at this point.

Posted by: cokedispatch | March 7, 2011 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Hey POOPY, I know that most people in Baltimore can't read, but don't they have a newspaper there that you can blog on?

Posted by: VegasJim | March 7, 2011 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, talk about a flop..........


Posted by: P00PY_MCP00P | March 7, 2011 1:43 PM |
--------------------

A flop?
What, are we going to talk about the nO's now?

Posted by: dkidwell61 | March 7, 2011 10:19 PM | Report abuse

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