Scouting Padres Prospect Jaff Decker

Baseball scouting reports are merely a snapshot in time and are extremely fluid, but a prospect can be permanently branded as one thing or another based on that one moment in time, and it could take years to overcome that public perception. Such is the case with San Diego Padres prospect Jaff Decker in respect to conditioning – a false pretense that he continually has to answer for.

Vital Statistics;
Name: Jaff Decker
Position: OF
DOB: February 23, 1990
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 195
Bats: Left
Throws: Left

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 the Arizona Rookie League, 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.

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.

The 2009 season would be a challenge, as Decker skipped short-season Eugene and was shipped to Low-A Fort Wayne. The outfielder would again impress.

"The year after I graduated high school – two years even – being a sophomore in college, there is no way in the world I could have been ready for this," former Fort Wayne and current San Antonio manager Doug Dascenzo said. "When you see an individual like Jaff Decker step right in and play with these four-year college guys and fifth-year senior college guys and be able to have success against them tells you a lot about the kid."

Despite missing time due to a back injury, Decker ended the season hitting .299 across 104 games. Only eight hitters batted .300 or better in the Midwest League. He netted 43 extra-base hits, including 16 homers, while scoring 78 runs and driving in 64. Decker also notched a 85-to-92 walk-to-strikeout ratio to lead the Midwest League with a .442 on-base percentage. He was second in the league in walks and walk percentage.

Decker was also second in the circuit in slugging percentage (.514) and was second in the league in homers per at-bat at once every 22.38 at-bats. His .215 ISO (Isolated Power) ranked second in the league. He was also first with a .434 wOBA (weighted On-Base Average), fifth in wRC (weighted Runs Created) with 92.1 and third in wRAA (weighted Runs Above Average) with 37.4.

A consistent performer, Decker hit .293 or better in four of his five months with the TinCaps. He also batted .276 in nine playoff games with two homers and a .462 on-base percentage.

"To be 19 years old and be able to come up here and be productive like that says a lot about this kid," Dascenzo said. "Sixteen home runs, a couple of them in the playoffs, and made a lot of good throws defensively. He still needs a lot of work and he knows that to get a little bit better out there defensively, but as an offensive player, this guy has the ability to hit the ball over the field, with power, high average. He's a good one."

"And I yell at him every day," Fort Wayne hitting coach Tom Tornicasa said. "He has a tendency to want to overswing at everything. I have to remind him and he gives me the ‘OK' nod."

The outfielder did struggle against left-handed pitching, hitting just .219 across 73 at-bats. One of the issues has been the opposition attacking him on the outside corner and Decker trying to pull the ball rather than taking the pitch the opposite way.

Decker has a unique open stance similar to that of Brian Giles. Timing and rhythm are important to his ability to make contact. His ability to make corrections on a pitch-by-pitch basis has allowed him to keep said stance, as there are some who believe he will have to change to continue his successes. That does not seem likely considering his penchant for covering both sides of the plate.

"He can hit, he just has a lot of natural attributes," roving hitting coordinator Tony Muser said.. "He can hit. There are some things, and probably some walls that he will hit. He's a guy that we will probably push. He is just so talented as a hitter. He's probably a one stopper."

With a toe-tap to begin his drive through the ball, Decker must get his foot down earlier, at times, to hit better fastballs. Usually, his load and separation are enough to get the job done.

He gets good extension and keeps his bat head through the hitting zone before a slight lift gives him backspin capabilities. His elbow is first through the zone followed by his wrist and hands, giving him a locking mechanism that keeps his swing plane consistent and firm. When the hands are through the zone first, swings will get long. With Decker, he is always short and compact to the ball with force.

Decker is adept at using all parts of the field with power. Just growing into his body at 19, Decker has plus power potential to go with his innate ability to hit for average.

"Decker is, I would categorize him as a one stopper," Muser said. "He just has that kind of hitting ability, to figure things out; offspeed is probably going to take a lot of work on his side because he has kind of a unique open stance like Giles does and has a couple of moves in there where rhythm and timing are going to be an issue. As of yet, he's figured it out."

"Good hitter – but he is a young hitter that doesn't know how to hit yet.," Tornicasa said. "He is figuring it out and getting better as he goes along. He is going to be some player. He has a lot of potential and can hit, but there are still things he needs to figure out. Pitch selection, his approach, because he is inconsistent with it at times, but he still knows how to hit. He still needs to learn a little bit more about pitch selection. Don't get me wrong, for someone that is 19, he is very, very good, but he is not someone that you are going to send to the big leagues right now.

There have been continuous rumblings that he has a bad body, but it lacks substance. Decker is serious about the game of baseball and understands he has to work hard to keep his body in tune. The back injury he suffered kept him from putting all of his effort into this, but the left-handed hitter is a better athlete than pundits give him credit.

"I totally contest that perception," former Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said of Decker not being athletic. "Its easy to look at him and make an easy and quick judgment. I was no different when I first saw him play in high school. My question was what will his body be like when he turns 25, but the more that you watch him play, watch the reads and breaks that he gets on the ball – he's as good as anyone out there. If we didn't have the center fielders that we have in our system now, no one would have a problem putting Jaff out there.

"Is Jaff aware that he has to do some things with his conditioning? Yes, and I think his back injury this year really hammered that concept home. Right now, we have him on a pretty good program in Peoria where he is not only working out with our trainer but also getting his nutrition on track, which a lot of time is a big challenge for young kids.

"As I said, he can run, throw, and has a good first step in the outfield. I don't believe that his whole value is just in his bat. With Jaff it's about making sure he stays in shape as he goes forward."

Decker dropped close to 15 pounds during the offseason and had to actually put a few pounds back on his frame to maintain his strength. That program came from a dedication that is hard to find in such a young player.

"A tremendous talent, good defender, good arm, a good runner. When you look at him, it wouldn't appear he can do that but he can," Dascenzo said. "He can hit the ball a long way. He has the ability to hit the ball all over the field. Anytime you see a hitter that can hit the ball on a line the other way and pull the ball with loft like he can – and being 19 – you have to think the world of him. And we do."

Decker has some speed and will take an extra base or steal a bag if he sees the benefit. He swiped 10 bases in 16 attempts in 2009 by using his smarts and getting good jumps.

Defensively, he has a plus arm with a 92 mph fastball off the mound. He is also an accurate thrower with a quick first-step. Decker needs to improve his reads off the bat but takes sure routes and plays the ball well off the wall.

"One thing that might get lost is that he is a pretty good outfielder with a good arm that can run a little," roving infield coordinator Gary Jones said. "His bat is what gets people excited, and he has a special whip in it. He kind of reminds me of Matt Stairs with the whip and when he first came up, he could throw, run and really hit; just like Jaff. He's also a much better athlete than people give him credit for. He can run and play center field if he needs too.

Conclusion: Decker can be an impact bat at the professional level but must stay healthy. This is the second year in a row that he begins the year in extended on the disabled list. His power is still in its infancy stage and could blossom in the next few years. His innate ability to hit the ball with the sweet part of the bat, and with backspin, makes him a lethal threat offensively for his extra-base hit potential. He is on a one-stop a year pace. It would not surprise to see this accelerated in 2010 where he faces the challenge of Double-A sometime after midseason.

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