Name: Jaff Decker
DOB: February 23, 1990
Selected in the supplemental first-round out of Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria, Arizona, Decker stayed in his hometown for his professional debut.
Decker went out and obliterated rookie ball, hitting .352 with 18 extra base hits, including five homers. He notched 34 RBI and scored 51 times. Decker also drew 55 walks compared to 36 strikeouts for an unbelievable .523 on-base percentage. He drew a walk in 25.7 of his plate appearances. He also stole nine bases in 10 attempts.
"He was a mature 18-year-old," AZL Padres manager Jose Flores said. "What impressed me about him was the way he carried himself, and the passion that he had for the game. His work ethic was outstanding; he pretty much came to play every day. And for an 18-year-old to come out and want to do that on a daily basis, knowing that it wasn't just anymore weekend games, it was pretty much every day, that really impressed most of us, that, whether he was having a bad day or maybe a bad week, that he came with the intention that every day he was out there in that lineup, that something can happen, something can click right away. And it happened just like that."
A left-handed hitter, he batted .310 off southpaws and .362 off righties. Hitting above .338 in every month he played, Decker also hit .522 with runners on base and two outs.
Hitting out of the three-hole most of the season, Decker reached base safely in 45 of his 49 games played, touching base on average 2.31 times per game.
The Arizona native also had a .622 on-base percentage when he led off an inning while hitting .395 with runners on base.
Decker was second in the league in average, first in on-base percentage, OPS (.1.064) walks, and runs scored, and fifth in slugging percentage (.541).
He also led the circuit in wOBA (weighted On Base Average) at .509, wRAA (weighted Runs Above Average based off wOBA) with 29.2 – 10 points higher than his closest competitor, and wRC (weighted Runs Created based off wOBA) with 59.6. His .432 BABIP was third in the Arizona Rookie League and his .189 ISO was eighth.
The outfielder was named the MVP of the Arizona Rookie League and a postseason All-Star.
"He started out real strong and there were days you could tell he was getting tired, and those are the days you kind of just look back, maybe if I give him a day here or a day there or a couple of days to where he can kind of recharge and before you know it, about the last two weeks of the season he pretty much just dominated where he eventually won the MVP," Flores said. "From seeing him every day I thought there might be doubts, but he took the last two weeks by storm and was the player that everybody thought he could be, and sure enough he won the MVP."
"It doesn't surprise me with what he did," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He is a very polished, intelligent, 18-year-old hitter. Besides hitting skill and strength, this guy has an advanced idea of what is going on in the strike zone.
"Granted, anytime a guy hits .350 their first summer with some damage – sometimes you never predict that. I remember when Cedric (Hunter) did it. It doesn't totally surprise us. We took those guys high in the draft with our expectation of them hitting-wise."
He went up to the Eugene Emeralds at the end of the year but got hit on the hand with a pitch in his third game played.
Decker has a bit of a unique stance, touching just the toe of his front foot down at the start of the pitch with his back foot slightly turned towards the pitcher. It gives him balance and separation for his load before applying the trigger. His hitting mechanics also allow his front foot to land softly, allowing him to reach balls on both sides of the plate and keeping him from leaking forward on off-speed pitches.
Decker keeps his hands close to his head, allowing him to turn on the inside pitch while keeping his hands inside the ball. A level swing allows for his bat head to stay through the hitting zone longer than most. He puts the barrel on the ball, resulting in hard contact. A line drive swing will produce more homers as he matures.
"Really understands hitting, extremely advanced for being 18," AZL Padres hitting coach Bob Skube said. "He hits like somebody that's 22, 23 that's been in the system for a couple of years. His philosophy and what the Padres preach is pretty much right on, so it really made it easy for him. He's a very disciplined hitter, gets good pitches to hit, doesn't chase out of the zone, and has a lot of power. I think the difference with Deck, between him and your other average left-handed hitting outfielders in the minor leagues, is that he has so much power the other way. He can literally hit the ball out of left field in any park that I've ever played in. He's very talented in that way."
The left-handed hitter has an advanced feel for the strike zone and rarely goes swinging outside the zone. Each pitch is a battle and Decker doesn't give in. His strike zone judgment is uncanny for his age. He isn't lured out of the zone and protects himself fiercely with two strikes.
"He has tremendous discipline and a tremendous approach," Padres director of minor league operations Mike Wickham said. "We will see how that helps him out. He has the eye and the discipline to see the ball. He will be able to make any adjustments."
Decker believes he will collect a hit each time he enters the box. It is that confidence that exudes from his being and enables him to remove prolonged hitting slumps.
"You know what I liked about his approach was that it just looked like he could set pitchers up," Flores said. "He would take two pitches where you would think well, why haven't you swung the bat? And then when he does, it's like a set-up thing, it's like you know there were a couple at-bats where he just set the pitcher up where he just either takes a cock shot or takes a curveball that he normally hammers and before you know it he's 0-2 and then they throw a waste pitch and the pitch after that it's like he was locked in the whole time, the whole at-bat and he drives the ball. It's like he doesn't get cheated when he's at-bat.
"It was just something special to watch."
"Not really a whole bunch of adjustments, maybe just calming him down," Skube said. "He had a lot of movement coming into the organization. A lot of movement as in getting ready to hit, and we kind of eliminated some of that. And other than that, he's just done it all himself. Outstanding hitter."
He doesn't have eye-popping speed but has great instincts and a feel for when to run off the opposition. He goes all out on each play – much like Mike Piazza used to run routine grounders out. If he doesn't take a play off, the pressure will be on the defense to make a play and could result in errant throws. A stocky build will likely limit his effectiveness stealing bases down the road.
Selected 42nd overall, Decker was a Padres fan growing up with Spring Training down the street from his home. His makeup and desire to succeed are other traits that had the Padres so high on him coming out of high school. He works hard to improve and inspires his teammates with his play.
"He was a center fielder in high school and also pitched," Fuson said. "He could throw 90 to 92 off of the mound and more importantly he had a feel for pitching. That is one of the keys how you gauge a young player's ability to play the game, their instincts. He's not the prototype centerfielder that is 6-foot-2 and long and lean, but he has instincts to succeed out there. He gets great jumps and reads on the ball. The only misnomer about him is everyone just looks at what he can do offensively, and there will be some limitations on him because of his size and body type, but he can play and is athletic."
Defensively, Decker has an above average arm that can make all the throws from right field. The former pitcher hit 92 mph on the hill and took that to the outfield. His first-step quickness needs improvement, but Decker makes good reads off the ball and has straight line speed to track balls down.
"With a guy like him, you are always guarded," Wickham said. "You expect him to go to the Midwest League and compete, definitely. We expect him to continue to refine his approach. I wouldn't expect him to do the same thing he did in the Arizona Rookie League just because the talent incrementally gets a lot better. You start out in a cold weather league - I don't think he will put up poor numbers, as he was the MVP, so he will put up solid numbers just from the polish and plate discipline alone.
"We don't want to put any undue expectations on any player. We are optimistic that he will go there and have success and be pretty good.
"A few years back we sent Cedric Hunter to Fort Wayne. He started off cold but picked it up towards the end of the year. You create these expectations that Decker should now be MVP of the Midwest League and that isn't fair. I think he will be really good there. Fort Wayne can be a tough place because it is so freaking cold until mid-May."
Conclusion: Decker has a special bat that profiles to hit for a high average with a ton of walks. His power has yet to really mature but it will also be evident as he progresses. His hitting foundation is too solid for power not to develop within his game.
If Decker can continuously up the power numbers, he has the potential to be an impact bat at the major league level. His attitude and makeup are off the charts. How good can he be? It is up to Decker.
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