Padres Prospect Interview: Jaff Decker

San Diego Padres prospect Jaff Decker spent the off-season slimming down. He met his goals but suffered a hamstring injury that took away all of spring. Now, he is using the Lake Elsinore Storm as his spring, hoping for better returns in the coming months after a slow start.

Talk to me about the off season, the program you were on, the mantra to lose a little weight, while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Jaff Decker: Yeah. I wasn't going out to fast food restaurants anymore. I was up in Arizona every day with Dan. We really worked hard on losing weight and putting muscle on. I lost about 20 pounds overall. I put on about 10 pounds of good weight, good muscle. Feeling good, feeling a little lighter around the bases until I got hurt. I'm feeling good. I'm glad to be a little skinnier.

How difficult is it to maintain a swing when your body is changing? Is that something you need to be cognizant of?

Jaff Decker: A little bit. You just know your fundamentals, your mechanics. It's a little more complicated with me, but I haven't really lost anything. I'm still feeling good. I just trust in what I have, and I know my mechanics will work on it for me.

Is there a mental challenge to keep with that singles approach rather than going for the fences every once in a while?

Jaff Decker: Torni (hitting coach Tom Tornicasa) really worked on me last year about picking my spots, when to let one go, and when he needs a base hit or not even a double, just a base hit. He said pick your spots. Run around second, you get that pitch. You try to, but other than that, run around third. Just hit a single up the middle. We worked on that a lot, learning how, when to choose your spots to hit that double or that homerun. That's what I'm learning right now as a hitter. I thought I had it all figured out. I guess there's a little more to learn.

How do you the hitting drills help you?

Jaff Decker: Just by keeping my swing short. Hit and runs really help me to stay down on the ball and stay short instead of getting a long swing and maybe hitting too many fly balls in BP. That's another thing I'm working on in BP, I'm not allowed to pull the ball at all. Outside, I can pull the ball, but I need to work on it. I can go left center, but they need me to work on my whole approach to the field. BP is not pull on the ball, no homeruns.

Is that just a waiting back on your pitch?

Jaff Decker: A little bit, yeah, and not trying to do too much. Going back to when to pick my spots and just learn how to just put the ball play instead of trying to do too much and not getting the job done.

Do you feel like it's using the hands more than the legs for that timing? Does that help in that area?

Jaff Decker: A little bit, yeah. I got chewed out so many times last year, even by my dad after the games. Like, ‘what the hell you doing?' I've always been taught to use my hands before anything else and not use my shoulders pulling off the ball. That's a lot of what I worked on this summer with my dad. He's the guy I go to when I need to work on something. That's what we worked on. I was kind of going back to my old approach, staying short to the ball and if I do get that pitch, don't do too much with it and it's going to go out on its own.

Did missing .300 tick you off a little bit?

Jaff Decker: Oh yeah. I think our broadcast guy said it was .299.4. I need a half a hit. I get made fun of by my family, my girlfriend, whatever. I hit .299. Everybody is supposed to hit .300, so it was tough. It was a little tough, because I've never hit under .300. I'd rather take a championship any day. We got the rings today.

How do you balance the aggressive attitude with the patience? It seems like we're turning a page in this organization as far as being a little more aggressive. You're a guy who likes to see some pitches. Now, we're looking at 0-0 counts and going, "Alright, if you see it, go get it."

Jaff Decker: It's not going to really change any of my approach. I like seeing pitches and I know what to swing at and what not to, because I think I have a good idea of the zone. If I do get that fastball, I'll jump on it. It's kind of what I did at the end of the year when my power numbers started going up a little bit. Torni worked on me with that, too. He said, ‘You're not going to see very many fastballs.' He said once I see it, just jump on it. So, that's something I'm going to work on, but I still want to have the same approach, just kind of seeing pitches and picking and choosing what I want to swing at.

Your approach with runners in scoring position was very successful last year. Does that change at all?

Jaff Decker: Not really. I'm going work on getting more base hits in that situation instead of trying to hit so many home runs.

Do you feel that? Like, ‘Oh my God, I was trying to hit a homerun there.'

Jaff Decker: A little bit, some swings. There's a little joke. Torni always flips me off when I try to do too much. I'm going to have to learn how to do it without him at first base this year. I'm learning how to pick and choose my spots, when to go for it and when to step back, and when the team needs a run instead of a home run.

You had a couple day game struggles last year. You didn't hit as well in the day as you did at night. Is there any reason you can pinpoint?

Jaff Decker: My dad would ask me the same thing all the time. It was almost like, during day games, I was hitting it right at people. I had the same swing. It wasn't like I was struggling. It was still tough seeing me hitting night games so much higher than day games. It bothered me, but I knew that my swing was still there. It wasn't going anywhere. It did bother me a little bit. I could have got that half a hit during a day game.

You could put sunglasses on and say, ‘hey, now it's night!'

Jaff Decker: I tried that, yeah. Luckily, every night game is in the Big Leagues playing under the lights.

Are there any superstitions that you have?

Jaff Decker: Little things. Nothing really big. Not really. I pretty much go out and do the same thing over and over. Nothing out of the ordinary.

What are the 2010 goals?

Jaff Decker: First of all, it was losing weight. I got that accomplished. I'm trying to get a little faster. I'd like to go back to how I played in high school, get a little more stolen bases. I'd like to feel more athletic than I did when I put that weight on. Now that it's off, I feel like I can do more. Hit for average, steal bases, and go back to playing the outfield like I used to. Pretty much everybody is coming with us to Elsinore, so it would be nice to win a championship. Maybe I can get over that .299 hump. Trying to hit instead of balls dying at the track in Indiana, in the Midwest League, maybe get them a few over.

We all know you have a lot of great teammates and this does not take away from anyone you don't mention. If you could have one hitter hitting behind you in the lineup all season to offer protection, who would it be and why?

Jaff Decker: During the year, it was Matt Clark. He got me a lot of runs, because he was hitting me in. It was nice getting on base for him. He's an RBI machine. I think he had 70 at the break. It was unbelievable what he was doing. Probably Matt Clark. Maybe see a little more fastballs with him behind me.

Who is the one pitcher you are glad you have as a teammate and why?

Jaff Decker: Probably Simon Castro. I'm not going to lie. Simon. Standing in the outfield, seeing his ball move and how long he is. He's pretty tough. And, also Al Harrington, because he has that big hammer for a curveball. Probably Simon, though, because he's so big and lengthy. He just goes inside, makes the ball runs, does anything he wants to the ball. He's going to be good.

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