MadFriars' Interview: Jaff Decker

MadFriars' John Conniff caught up with Jaff Decker one of the Padres' top prospects on how has year has been going so far.

SAN ANTONIO: OF Jaff Decker was taken in the supplemental first round of the 2008 draft with the 42nd overall pick out of Sunrise High school in Peoria, Arizona; the spring training home of the Padres.

Despite putting up some truly awe inspiring numbers in high school many teams shied away from Decker because of his relatively short stature for a corner OF/power hitter - 5'10" - and the perception that he would not be able to play in the field because of conditioning issues.

Despite coming into the season with career minor league numbers of .295/.435/510, getting into the best shape of his life and playing one of the better left fields in every league he has been in; Decker still has his detractors.

We caught up with Jaff, who just turned 21, to get his response on his critics, how he got in great condition and how it is affecting his overall game.

You look in great shape this year as you did last. The big knock on you has always been "body type" so what did you do in the off-season to continue with your physical preparation?

Jaff Decker: After I got the injury to my hand and had my surgery I really put a lot of effort into working out as soon as I was given the ok by the doctors. Even when I couldn't do certain things because of my injury there was a lot of leg work, abs and back exercises to get my core strong with API.

From about October to about a week before spring training I was really going hard. They did my meals for me and everything. I really put an effort to pick up on what I did last year.

I wanted to get in good shape not so much to shut people up but to become a better baseball player...and it doesn't hurt to try to look good doing it too [laughs].

Last year you lost the weight and it looked like you were doing a lot of cardio. This year it seems like a combination of strength and cardio.

Jaff Decker: I am about the same weight I am last year but my body fat is down. The API guys really worked on my agility and my form running. I feel much faster and in the best shape that I have ever been in.

That has really changed your whole game. You are bunting now, stealing bases so that must be something you really enjoy. I've always considered you a bit of a baseball ‘geek'.

Jaff Decker: I love it. Its how I grew up playing hard and trying to do things the right way. It's a team game and anything you can do to help your team win; steal, take the extra base and it makes the game easier for the guys behind you. It's kind of fun to be that guy on the field making the pitcher's life tough and defensively taking hits away from the outfield.

You have also been batting in the two slot, so that is a bit different.

Jaff Decker: It is different I haven't ever really hit there before. We have such a stacked lineup that so many of our guys would be hitting in the middle of the order for any other team. I think it really helps learn how to hit in different situations. Showing the drag bunt and little of the hit and run.

You changed your stance from your first year in Fort Wayne and you changed it to a much shorter stroke in Lake Elsinore. How has that affected your power?

Jaff Decker: Countess hours with my dad in the cage really helped me to learn how to swing early on. Learning how to see the pitch with two eyes at the start, learning how to cover the whole plate, keep my hands back until the last minute really helped my power.

Last year was a work in progress with Skube [Bob Skube, the batting coach at Lake Elsinore last year, now in AAA Tucson] was kind of a work in progress. It started out with going as wide as I could be and when I started to get a feel for it, he said ok, do your own thing. I now have a slight leg kick and pretty good power to all fields.

Skube did say one of things the new swing did was give you more power to left.

Jaff Decker: I've always been able to go the other way, but it was mainly line drives into the gap. Now I think I can actually have power though the other way.

We've always talked about you going from high school to the pros as compared to your friends. Despite having some injuries in the last two season you had 1040 plate appearances before you were 21.

If you were playing at ASU, where you were going to go, you would be hoping to get drafted so to get into a short-season league. How much has playing pro ball and getting those plate appearances helped you as opposed to going to college?

Jaff Decker: Before spring training my dad and I were kind of talking about if we did the right thing and we thought it was 100% yes. Right now I am right where I want to be because, as you said, this year would be my draft year.

I think I have learned more with these older guys about how to play the game professionally as opposed to just going out and playing.

With a metal bat even if you miss a pitch you can still hit it out. With wood you have to hit it right on the spot. I was lucky to get drafted to where I was and thank God it worked out this way.

Its just such a big advantage to be 21 and where I am at as opposed to being worried if I am going to get drafted.

Did you have much experience with wood before you came into the pros?

Jaff Decker: I went to a lot of showcases with wood, like the Area Code Games. My Dad always made me hit wood in BP until the last round from my freshman year up. I think it really helped me because I didn't miss any pitches with metal.

If you miss with wood you are going to blow up your bat. I really thank my Dad for it, you know Dad you were right, again [laughs].

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