Q&A with new San Jose manager Steve Decker

After posting a ridiculous .689 winning percentage in three seasons with the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Steve Decker is moving up in the system this year, taking over the reins at San Jose. The former Giants catcher shares his thoughts on his transition to the Cal League and some of his former players looking to join him there.

Q: Having spent the last three years in short-season ball, how are you approaching this year differently?
I'm going to take from my experience as the hitting coach at Triple-A for a couple of years. The organization will prioritize who our top prospects are and who has to really be developed to a high level and you make sure that those guys are covered. You try to improve everybody as a team – again, we're player development. There are certain aspects about what I try to get guys to understand about being a professional. How to come to the game every day and grind it out. I will have some of my players from Salem last season who have not played a full season, and some guys from Low-A that have played full season and will know how to do it a little better. I think you have to be more patient during a long season than a short season that's really a sprint to the finish line.
What I tried to do the last couple years in Salem-Keizer was teach guys how to be a professional as far as work ethic, as far as on and off the field, preparing yourself to play every day mentally and physically. That will be a big part of it – our conditioning, stretching the pitchers out, saving the bullpen. The difference is – mentally – the grind of having to stay up for 144 games a year.

Q: Between your time as a player and the last seven years coaching in the system, you've been with the organization longer than just about anyone. Do you see any differences in the minor league camp this year under Fred Stanley compared to past years?
The numbers of people we have. We have a lot of people in camp and we've got a lot of guys competing for jobs. When there's competition within, it usually makes your organization better. The one thing about the last few years of us having good teams up in Salem and Augusta is character. Hopefully, we can carry that through our player development and guys can keep progressing through High-A and then to Double-A and try to get us some impact players at the Major League level that are every-day position players.
An illustration of that, we're really trying to develop some middle infielders right now, and I think you'll see some future Giant middle infielders. We've got (Charlie) Culberson and (Nick) Noonan; we've got (Manny) Burriss and (Brian) Bocock; we've got Sharlon Schoop; a kid we got in the Rule 5, Juan Ciriaco, so we've got some young, good-looking middle infielders that hopefully we can develop.

Q: You mentioned Schoop. He's a guy who took a step backwards last year. What do you see in store for him this year?
I wouldn't really say he had a significant step backwards. The average age in the SALLY league is 19-and-a-half years old, and he came to the Northwest League where you have number one draft picks and college players, where the average age is 20-and-a-half. So, he went to an older league and actually played very well for me every day, so I think it was the right opportunity for him to play. He got off to a slow start in Augusta and he had Bocock and then Burriss, so he really just didn't fit in to where he could play in every day, so it was a good situation (when he came back). He was only 20 years old, so he was actually younger than most of the guys in the league and I thought he played very well. He has some upside, some power potential. We need to fix a few things defensively with him, but he's a good-looking young prospect.

Q: You have a situation with one of last year's first-rounders Jackson Williams being in big-league camp early. Is that a challenge for you guys in terms of development since you've had limited opportunities to see him?
Not really. We're in constant communication with Bill Hayes, who helps run things at the major league level as far as catching. I was over there for major league camp early. Brian Holtzman, the roving catching guy, was over there early, so we definitely all have our eyes on him. We're in the cage with him when he's working with Carney Lansford to make sure the terminology will stay consistent on what he needs to work with in terms of hitting. Everybody will be on the same page with him.

Q: In terms of some of the pitchers on your staff last year, what's happened with Jared Cranston?
Jared decided to retire. He just felt like he couldn't play this year. I don't know exactly what it was, I just saw it on my list and was as surprised as you are. He was my ace last year, no doubt about it.

Q: Jesse English was back with you again last year and finally put it together, putting up some crazy numbers before he went up to San Jose. How is he looking this spring?
I have not had a chance to see him throw. He was a guy for me that, in a two-week span, was the best pitcher in the league last year. Had a nice carry on his fastball, was getting his changeup over and learned how to develop a little bigger breaking ball, but I just don't think he got real comfortable at A-ball, but I think this will be a big year for him.
He was probably better against right-handed hitters than lefties last year because of his changeup. He did a really nice job controlling both sides of the plate.

Q: Is there anyone who really stands out for you in terms of coming in and looking like he's really done the work he needed to this offseason?
I'd be able to answer that question in two to three weeks. There are guys who come in and look good physically. Matt Downs in our first intrasquad went 4-for-4 with a home run and double and four RBI's. He's a guy that was the league MVP in the Northwest League that's going to be fighting for a position, or fighting for a team this spring.
He's working at second base, third base. He can play shortstop in a pinch or go to first base and be an above-average defender. It really is going to be where he fits in. They're going to have to find someplace for him to play because he's really forcing the issue the way he's swinging the bat.

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