AZL Padres Hitter of the Year

Summary: The AZL Padres went 33-23 and missed the playoffs by a game in Jose Flores' inaugural year as the manager. The AZL Padres led the league in OBP and were fourth in OPS, two statistics the organization puts quite a bit of weight behind.

Maybe the most talent rich collection of prospects at this level in quite a while, led by Jaff Decker, who has made quite a few major league scouting directors re-think their original assessment.

Overview: We used a simple formula for the awards, whichever team the player appeared at the most determined their eligibility. For the top prospect we took into account not only what the players did this year, but their age and potential to get better.

Conniff Confidential

Player of the Year: Jaff Decker
Outfielder - .353/.523/.541

Runner-Up: Robert Lara
Catcher - .344/.490/.484

Both Kyle Blanks and Cedric Hunter had impressive debuts in the Arizona League but Decker, 18, the league MVP, who led the league in walks and OPS, had the best of them all. He was advertised coming into the draft as being an advanced hitter, but no one could have foreseen to this extent. He was 9-for-10 in stolen base attempts and hit an astounding .522/.645/.870 with runners on and two outs.

In addition to having maybe the best short-season debut of Padres' draft pick at the plate, Decker also showed that he could play some defense, splitting time between left and center field but may profile best at upper levels in right field, he threw in the low-90s off of the mound in high school.

Lara was a 19th-round draft pick this year out of the University of Central Florida and surprised everyone with his ability to hit as well as he did, especially in controlling the zone. He finished second in the league in OBP and was in the top 10 for doubles. Defensively, which is what he was known for going into the draft, Lara, 21, led all AZL catchers with a .995 fielding percentage and threw out 33 percent of runners attempting to steal.

Savage Sub-Rosa

Player of the Year: Jaff Decker
Outfielder - .353/.523/.541

Runner-Up: Robert Lara
Catcher - .344/.490/.484

Not much debate here. Decker was outstanding in the AZL – he showed an incredibly patient approach, and it almost appeared that he was setting the pitchers up for failure. He would let pitches go by and crush the ones he liked. He is a package of strike zone judgment, blossoming power, a strong arm, and some speed.

Decker led the entire minor leagues in on-base percentage and his 55 walks in 49 games showed how comfortable he was waiting for the right pitch to drive. He reached base, on average, 2.27 times per game. It was a great year.

Lara may have surprised some with his quality bat. Not known for the stick, the backstop had a .411 average on batted balls in play and was third in the league with 35 runs created. Lara was also an on-base machine, sporting a .469 on-base percentage, flashing his control of the zone.

The catcher showed he has a good arm and was solid in blocking balls but will need to improve upon his accuracy. Lara, however, was a beast at the dish, spraying balls to all fields with a swing that is conducive to line drives. He may develop more power but his strength is working the alleys with a simple stroke.

Others of Note: Kevin Acosta did not get many chances after a terrible year in 2007 in the DSL but hit .344 over 32 at-bats. Jason Codiroli, 21, is a speedy centerfield/leadoff hitter that had two very good months before slumping in August. Codiroli, who was also scouted as a left-handed pitcher, finished fourth in the league in OBP. After hitting well in his debut season in the AZL, Edgar Garzon did not see the same success, especially in the slugging department, hitting .275/.347/.367. Kevin Hansen, an undrafted free agent, hit .287, controlled the strike zone and played four different positions on the diamond in a solid debut. The Padres signed first baseman Chris Hardin, 22, out of Southern Nazarene College in Oklahoma, where he hit .439/.541/.804, put together a nice debut season in the AZL at .287/.413/.397. Keisy Marte performed well in his stateside debut, hitting .278 while also leading the club with eight sacrifice bunts. Aaron Murphree, 24, a massive power prospect at 6-foot-5, 235-pounds had to improve upon controlling the zone, which he did with a 26/35 BB/K ratio to finish off at .250/.376/.421. He's old for the league and is going to have to make the Fort Wayne team out of spring training to really have a chance, which will be difficult. Edinson Rincon didn't arrive until late but had 18 RBIs in 23 games. Chase Williams has the prototypical body you look for but batted just .169 in 41 games.

Manager Commentary: "Being so young, he was a mature 18-year-old. What impressed me about him was the way he carried himself and the passion he had for the game. His work ethic was outstanding. He came to play everyday." – AZL Padres manager Jose Flores on Jaff Decker

Top Prospect: Jaff Decker

Built like a British bulldog, Decker wasn't viewed as having the body type that screams athleticism. The Padres, however, were unfazed and called him the best high school hitter they had seen this year. That proved to be an apt description. A short, compact stroke along with quick wrists and a bat that stays through the hitting plane led to an unbelievable year in the AZL.

As good as Kyle Blanks and Cedric Hunter have become, Decker may actually become the best player. When talking with the Padres, the feeling that you get is that they knew he was a special hitter when they drafted him but they, and nearly everyone else, didn't realize that Decker, as gifted a hitting prospect as he is, is even a better all-around baseball player.

At Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria, Decker was the high school player of the year in Arizona, hitting .565 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs and was 21-of-21 in stolen base attempts along with a .717 on-base percentage. On the mound, he was 9-1 with a 1.02 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. In four years of varsity baseball, he had a career average of .537, the best all time at the 5A baseball level in Arizona – Playstation type numbers.

Although he is only around 5-foot-10. he is a better athlete than given credit for and has outstanding instincts in the field and on the base paths. He'll probably play all three outfield positions again at Fort Wayne, and if he can get past the cold weather in April, Decker will put up some serious numbers.

Both Denis and John agreed on the top prospect.

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