Padres Prospect Interview: Jaff Decker

FORT WAYNE, IN: Jaff Decker was selected in the first-round of the 2008 supplemental first-round in what is quickly shaping up to be the strongest San Diego Padres' draft in years.

Despite achieving every possible statistical mark one could hope for in high school, many scouts believed that Decker at 5-foot-10 and 200 lbs. did not have enough of athleticism or projection to warrant a first round pick.

In the Arizona League last year, he was the League MVP, hitting .352/.523/.541 while splitting time between left and center field. So far with Fort Wayne, he has continued his strong play, batting third while being in the top three of on-base and slugging percentage in the Midwest League throughout the season.

What is the biggest difference in playing a full-season as compared to the short-season Arizona League?

Jaff Decker: Getting your body ready for everyday. Last year, it was play four, get one day off. This year, it's play 25, then get a day off. Last year, I would come early and hit everyday but you just can't do that when you play everyday. You have to adjust your schedule and know when to ease back and let your body rest.

Last year, you had a great introduction to the pro game by playing in Peoria, which is about 10 minutes from your home?

Jaff Decker: Really its about five maybe 10 [laughs]. It was a big help and I think I set the AZL record for attendance by all my family members. I played travel ball at that park and had watched a lot of spring training games there; so I was real comfortable.

It was kind of like the second park where I grew up.

Watching you take BP, it seems your swing is complicated but its not; step, tap, stride. Has anyone here tried to make any adjustments to your swing

Jaff Decker: Not really, little tweaks here and there. Nobody has every really tried to change it because I've been successful, and hopefully I can keep doing it all the way up.

When I did some research on you last year, you obviously had some nice stats in high school, how did you keep from getting complacent and keep moving all the way up?

Jaff Decker: I've always tried to challenge myself. In high school, I played varsity as a freshman, batted third and pitched. In travel ball, I played with older guys too, so I think that always helped me out. The way I look at it there are always going to be guys that throw harder and have better breaking balls. I think it helped me a lot playing with older people.

When you were drafted by the Padres in the supplemental first-round, was it that difficult a decision to go the pros instead of to Arizona State? If I remember correctly, you were in the National Honor Society, but it seems like your whole life has been about trying to become a major league player?

Jaff Decker: It was because I knew so many of the guys that were going there and really liked Coach Murphy [ASU's head coach]. I could have gone to other schools, and initially wanted to go to UCLA. My goal has always been to be a major league baseball player, and I think Coach Murphy would have gotten me ready for that.

When the Padres drafted me, I thought it was a good fit for what I wanted.

There are a lot of guys you see that have the talent to play out of high school, but I don't think they factor in the mental grind that it takes to play pro ball. How much did you think about that?

Jaff Decker: I definitely thought about it, and my Dad had a big influence on teaching me about the mental side growing up. Anyone can have the tools to play, but it is what you have up top that is going to make you successful. My favorite movie growing up was For the Love of the Game, which is about having the mental strength to keep on going when things get tough. I think I have that too, which is why I wanted to play in the pros.

The Padres emphasis on getting a good pitch to hit, of being selective at the plate, seems to not be that big an adjustment for you. Is that what you have been doing your whole life?

Jaff Decker: Again, that goes back to things my Dad taught me; a walk is just as good as a hit. Its a team sport, you have to trust the guy behind you. Its always been a thing of mine that if I don't get my pitch, go to first, steal second and get in scoring position. You don't have to do it all on your own. If you do get your pitch, make sure you hit it and don't miss.

A lot of descriptions of you being overweight seem to be a big exaggeration. You are in pretty good shape and last year spent half of your games were in center field. What are you doing to keep up your conditioning?

Jaff Decker: I get that all the time. When people see me and I tell them I play pro ball, they ask if I'm a catcher. I tell them I play outfield and they ask, ‘you can run?' ‘Yeah, I can run.' [laughs]. I played football in high school, ran for some yards but I just don't have that athletic 6-foot-3 frame. We have a great strength program and our strength coach is really pushing me. I don't just want to become a DH. Conditioning is part of my everyday routine and what I do. I'm not blessed like some guys that can run like a deer, but I can move.

Grady said one of the reasons that you were in center last year was because of your instincts in the field. He said that you really took good routes and had a great feel for the game. How did you develop that?

Jaff Decker: My little brother is here with me right now learning the game and my Dad has coached high school ball for over 20 years so I was always around the park growing up. Learning from the older guys and my Dad from when I was two. I've always had an edge over others in that respect.

It doesn't seem like there is any rebellion that you see in other coaches sons, that maybe you wanted to try something else? It doesn't seem like you can get enough of the game.

Jaff Decker: It's what I love. There is nothing else that I would rather be doing. I could be in school right now, but I can't think of anything else I would rather be doing now.

What is the one specific thing you need to do to get better?

Jaff Decker: Just trying to make the season not so choppy and become more consistent. Stay in better shape and keep always trying to go upwards. There is always going to be some down time but try to limit it.

You talk about staying in shape, but its not like you guys just show up at six for a seven o'clock game. How tough is it to workout with all the side work that you are expected to do before the game?

Jaff Decker: It's hard, but that is also the reason not everyone is a pro baseball player too. You have to show up early and get your hitting in if that is what you need or ride the bike if you think you are slacking a bit to keep the legs fresh. It just depends what you think your body can take.

How did you get the name "Jaff" when it is pronounced "Jeff"?

Jaff Decker: I'm named after my Uncle, my Dad's brother, who passed away in the military. He was my Dad's best friend, so he named me after him, and, from what I understand, a pretty good athlete. When he was born, the nurse accidently wrote an "a" where there should have been an "e" on the birth certificate and the family just never changed it.

They said he was the last one to leave the field, yard and mats of whatever sport he was playing, a real hard-nosed guy that liked to compete. That is how I hope to be remembered too.

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