Two former Nats catchers blossom into All-Stars

Two former Nats catchers blossom into All-Stars
July 14, 2014, 10:00 pm
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MINNEAPOLIS — The Nationals always liked Kurt Suzuki and Derek Norris. They just liked Wilson Ramos better, which is why they were willing to trade away both catchers to the Athletics.

Little could the Nationals — or anybody else, for that matter — have foreseen both guys blossoming into All-Stars this season.

Yes, stroll through the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis, or gaze out on the grass at Target Field, and there were Suzuki and Norris, hobnobbing with the very best and brightest players in baseball, fellow All-Stars.

“This is definitely a blessing,” Suzuki said. “I’m very humbled to be here today.”

Norris had long been touted as a top hitting prospect who simply needed time to develop. Suzuki, though, is a 30-year-old veteran with 919 games of big-league experience who had never come close to sniffing an All-Star selection. But after becoming a free agent over the winter and signing a $2.75 million contract with the Twins, he morphed into something he had never been before: an offensive force.

Suzuki is hitting .309 with 18 doubles and 37 RBI, becoming Minnesota’s No. 1 catcher. The key to his renaissance? Advice from Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky.

“He said: ‘Just go back to being who you are. We don’t want you to hit 30 homers. Would that be great? Yeah. But at the same time, who are you as a hitter?’” Suzuki explained. “We talked and we came to the conclusion that we were going to simplify things and I was going to be the hitter that I was when I first got called up. Use the whole field, hit line drives, not do too much. And it’s just seemed to click.”

Suzuki had his moments with the Nationals during the second half of the 2012 season and early in 2013. And he said he has nothing but fond memories of his time there. But he has no complaints how everything has worked out for him since.

“The last two years weren’t too kind,” he said. “I always felt like I still had a lot in me. It was just a matter of going out there and proving to myself that I could compete still at the highest level. Because I did catch a lot of games earlier. I don’t know if it did wear on my body. I didn’t feel like it, but it might have. So to come out this year and be fortunate enough to make the All-Star team, I think it was very humbling. I’m blessed.”

Norris, meanwhile, was blossomed into one of the AL’s best-hitting catchers, some 2 1/2 years after he was part of the six-player trade that brought Gio Gonzalez to Washington.

The Nationals’ fourth-round pick in the 2007 draft, he hit just .204 as a rookie with Oakland in 2012, then .246 last season. This year, he’s hitting .294 while sporting a robust .402 on-base percentage.

Considered one of the Nationals’ top prospects for several years, Norris always figured he’d end up in D.C. The trade to Oakland caught him off-guard, but he’s more than happy with the end result.

“I think ultimately the trade worked out for both sides,” he said. “You know what? I’m having a great time here, and I think Gio is loving his spot over there. I think it couldn’t have worked better for both sides.”