Padres Prospect Interview: Jaff Decker

San Diego Padres prospect Jaff Decker had another MVP type season in 2009. Playing in the tough Midwest League, the outfielder fell one point shy of hitting .300, led the circuit in on-base percentage while smacking 16 homers. His team also earned a piece of history. Still, Decker says he has things to work on.

Winning the Midwest League championship. What was it like for you as a team and as an individual?

Jaff Decker: It was one of the best situations I have had throughout baseball. I have won championships and a Gold Medal. That team we had in Fort Wayne was one of a kind. It was a feeling I will never forget. The players I was with – it does not matter if we stay together or not, it is one thing I will never forget in my baseball career.

When you look back on the 2009 season, how do you assess it?

Jaff Decker: I felt like I had a good year. I have to tweak a couple of things here and there. Grind it out, my first year in full season ball. It is a long season. I felt like I had a good year but I can improve upon a lot of things.

When I spoke with Tom Tornicasa at the end of the season, he noted there were a couple of things you needed to work on. What are those things?

Jaff Decker: Not trying to do too much at the plate. Understand what the situation gives me. He is always talking about the game will tell me what I need to do – whether it is hit a home run or ball in the gap or just a simple base hit. I put that together the last couple of weeks where it really helped me – and even in the playoffs. There were times when we didn't really need a double but a base hit for an RBI would do. He really taught me how to slow the game down and take short swings instead of trying to open the game up.

Did it feel like you were trying to hit that home run every time?

Jaff Decker: A little bit. I would hit balls straight back and my head would pull off instead of hitting a ball in the gap or whatnot. He would always look down at me with that mean grin. He has helped me a lot to understand what I need to do at the plate – just take what is given to me, pretty much.

Is there a difference in your timing when a pitcher gives you the slide step versus the higher leg kick and how do you make that determination?

Jaff Decker: That is another thing we worked on because I might need to get my foot down a little earlier on the slide step. They quick-pitched me a little bit in the middle of the year and it threw me off a little bit. I was able to get right back on it with Torni helping me get my foot down, not trying to time it perfectly and use my hands a little bit more.

Does that take away the tuning on a per pitcher basis?

Jaff Decker: A little bit. He helped me realize what is coming to get the foot down. He said, ‘All you really need to use is your hands.' I have heard that a lot this year. It is the thing I should write on my bat.

People have always said that conditioning will be essential and is a priority for you. What do you believe, based on that?

Jaff Decker: I am working out with Dan (our strength coach) a lot in our off-season program. I am trying to get my conditioning as best as possible. I am not gifted with a 6-foot-3 frame. I am 5-foot-10, if that, with cleats on. The off-season program is a big thing for me. Dan has been kicking my butt a little bit and that is what we have been doing. Tired was a factor but it will all pay off in the coming year.

You were in the Auxiliary Fall League – if that is the actual name of it. What was that experience like?

Jaff Decker: There was a lot of good pitching there. It almost humbles you a little bit, coming from A-ball. You could get your hits off certain pitchers but in that league you really have to take every at-bat and expect a pitch – if you get it, don't miss it because you will see a 3-0 changeup and 2-1 changeup when you are looking fastball. They throw every pitch for a strike. The games were a lot quicker than the instructs games because my roommates were always coming back a little late.

What kind of mental challenges did you face this year?

Jaff Decker: I really didn't have many up and downs this year. For me, it was the first time traveling on a seven-hour bus ride and getting to the field ready to play after the long bus ride; getting to the hotel at three o'clock in the morning; pretty much the haul over the year with bus rides, hotels, long days, rain outs – staying in game mode and being ready to play.

What is your first memory of playing baseball?

Jaff Decker: Going to the high school field with my dad and my mom yelling at him for always bringing me home late. I used to steal baseballs. All the pitchers would run because of me because I would try and take all the balls out of the bucket. It was fun. That is one thing I will never forget. It was cool during my senior year when my dad coached me at Goldwater. We played them our last game and the coach there said he remembered me when I was little, chasing after balls and stealing them from him. I will never forget running around the field with my dad.

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