MadFriars' Interview: Jaff Decker

TUCSON, AZ: Few prospects in the Padres' system experienced the success that Jaff Decker did after signing with San Diego as the first round supplemental pick in 2008 out of Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria, Arizona.

His first summer as a professional Decker hit .352/.523/.541 in the AZL and followed up the next year hitting . 299/.442/.514 at nineteen in Fort Wayne.

In 2010, despite missing the first six weeks of the year with hamstring problems, Decker hit .262/.374/.500 for the Storm. Its even better if you throw out May, where he was coming into the Cal League with no spring training, and he hit .292/.421/.558 the rest of the way before breaking his hand in mid-August.

Then the problems began.

Despite getting in better shape each year as a professional Jaff suffered a combination of major and minor injuries and struggled against the better pitching in the Texas League.

A severe foot injury cost him nearly all of 2012. Decker is now finally healthy and after a slow April is beginning to show a return to form hitting .366/.458/.577 in May going into Monday night's game with an .842 OPS for the season.

Your game has really changed since we first started to follow you in Fort Wayne. Then you were only in left field, hit in the middle of the order and were pretty much station to station on the base-paths.

Now you are hitting at the top or bottom of the order. Playing all three outfield position and even running a little.

What happened?

Jaff Decker: It's good. I've gotten in better shape as I've gotten older. When I signed I could hit and had a good arm. I still have those skills but I'm working on being more of a complete player.

It just makes it more a fun game for me being able to do more on the field and help my team.

That was really after the first year. Because you were in better shape the next season in Lake Elsinore.

Jaff Decker: Yeah, that is true. I grew up a bit.

When you had those injuries especially to your foot last year it affected your game. I've always thought that you are such a rhythm hitter that relies upon your footwork and timing it just had to kill you at the plate.

No matter how much you told yourself it wasn't going to hurt, it did.

Jaff Decker: It was like a nail coming through my foot. You try to play through it and finally I just couldn't play though it after I had another pop. It was disappointing but I'm back now and healthy so that is what I am focussing on now.

Did you find yourself getting into any bad habits at the plate?

Jaff Decker: Sure there were a few things, especially with my foot. The kinks are slowly starting to leave.

You just turned twenty-three and playing in a league with guys close to my age. How has that been going?

Jaff Decker: [laughs]. Its been going good, although I don't think I ever played against anyone that old. But I've always played up since I was little. In high school I was on varsity as a freshman and being drafted at 18.

Here, I've really tried to learn from Travis Buck. I just try to follow him because he has been in the big leagues and has had success. We are a lot alike, both of us are left-handed hitters and play the outfield.

I try to pick up as much as I can from him but in the end, it's still the same game. They still have to throw the ball to me.

At this level you have many guys that could be number five starters on certain teams but the numbers didn't work out as compared to AA where you have a phenom with a huge fastball.

Jaff Decker: That is true. At this level they know how to pitch which is the biggest thing that I have learned. They can throw a lot of pitches for strikes so you have to be ready to hit with every pitch.

The biggest thing is don't miss your pitch. They can locate and spin whatever they want but be ready to hit your pitch.

I know you have heard this criticism that you are too passive at the plate but its kind of a double-sided argument because a big strength of your game is being selective and getting walks.

How do you balance that?

Jaff Decker: Its trying to be more aggressive and not take the pitch that I know I can drive. At the same time I like to work the count and force the pitcher to adjust to me.

When things are going bad for me the biggest problem is that I am missing my pitch as opposed to what the pitcher is doing. Even if I am not swinging it well I know I can still get on base and score runs to help my team.

In spring training you seemed to be hitting a lot more the opposite way and they weren't just flares. Is that something that you have been trying to work on more?

Jaff Decker: I think its always been there. I'm kind of trying to take away what the pitchers have been doing to me in recent years. Change-ups away sinkers away and sliders away and just learn how to hit that pitch better.

When you get a pitcher who can throw something you don't want to hit for strikes - lets say he can throw a sliders away for strikes. How do you adjust too that?

Jaff Decker: First, I'm not afraid to hit with two strikes. Also, he has to put it there three or more times which isn't easy. I try to stay within my hitting zone because when you go out of it is when you chase pitches.

Last question how nice is it to be back in your home state of Arizona?

Jaff Decker: Its nice but I haven't been back here in the summer in a long time. The other day I was kind of "Wow its hot" [laughs].

So, I'm not sure I'm ready for the summer yet. But its nice when a lot of your family and friends can come down and see you. Also I have a few friends who go to the University of Arizona so its really comfortable.

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