A's position battle: Catcher
Derek Norris hit just .246 with nine home runs and 30 RBI in 98 games last season. (USATI)
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The battle behind the plate should be one of the better storylines to follow in the Oakland A's spring camp.
It sets up for a natural catching platoon between the right-handed hitting Derek Norris and the left-handed batting Stephen Vogt. But you can bet if one of those players enjoys a hot Cactus League season -- and shows he can hit pitchers from both sides -- that man will grab the lion's share of the innings.
Who might that player be?
Looking at the big picture, the A's surely would love to see Norris blossom into an everyday-caliber player. He is young -- the Kansas native celebrates his 25th birthday on Feb. 14, the day A's pitchers and catchers report. He was a highly thought of prospect when Oakland acquired him from Washington in December 2011 as part of the Gio Gonzalez trade. And since making his major league debut in June, 2012 Norris has gained experience and developed a rapport with young starters such as Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Tommy Milone, and relievers like Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle.
Norris hit just .246 with nine home runs and 30 RBI in 98 games last season. That included a woeful .149 mark against right-handers, so Norris will have to improve greatly in that area to have a shot to be the regular starter.
Vogt, the longtime minor league journeyman, became a terrific story in 2013 as he evolved into a contributor to the A's division championship run. The 29-year-old hit .252 with four homers and 16 RBI in 47 games. He drew 39 of his 40 starts against right-handers, going 4-for-18 (.222) against lefties. And he worked hard to familiarize himself with Oakland's big league staff. Noboby in the A's clubhouse enjoyed his individual ride as much as Vogt, given the long and windy road he took to get to Oakland. Working in his favor: Vogt showed a better throwing arm last year than Norris. He nailed 8 of 28 base stealers (28.6%) compared to 7 of 42 (16.7%) for Norris.
Don't forget about John Jaso in the catching competition. He was sidelined for the final two-plus months of 2013 after suffering a concussion, but he is healthy now. All signs point to him getting most of his playing time as a designated hitter, but A's manager Bob Melvin said that he considers Jaso a legitimate option behind the plate, and Jaso has expressed his desire to catch.
A fourth catcher in camp will be Chris Gimenez, who was claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay. He's played in 143 big league games over five seasons with Cleveland, Seattle and Tampa Bay, and he's versatile enough to play first base and the outfield.
But in all liklihood, the catching competition will once again come down to Norris and Vogt. Spring training will help tell the story of whether one of them is ready to take center stage behind the plate.