Monday, February 23, 2015

Outfield Depth: Jaff Decker

One of camp's fun exercises is to check out the bubble players, the depth guys that often help make or break a season when the front line falters through injury or performance. The first player we'll visit is outfielder Jaff Decker.

Decker attended Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria, Arizona. As a senior in 2008, he was named the Arizona state high school baseball player of the year.

The San Diego Padres selected Decker in the first round, with the 42nd overall selection, of the 2008 MLB Draft. In the Arizona Rookie league, he slashed .343/.513/.521 and was named league MVP, pretty heady stuff for an 18 year old. He spent 2009 with the Class-A Fort Wayne Tin Caps, putting up a .299 batting average and .956 OPS in 104 games. Baseball America ranked him among BA's Top 100 Prospects (#82) heading into 2010.

Jaff Decker 2014 (photo: Grant Jeffries/Bradenton Herald)
Promoted to the High Class-A Lake Elsinore Storm, Decker hit .262 with a .874 OPS, but he was limited to 79 games by injuries. Moving up to the AA San Antonio Missions in 2011, Decker's average fell to .236, but he hit 19 home runs, stole 15 bases, and scored 90 runs in 133 games, holding his OPS at .790.

He was added to the Padres 40-man roster over the winter and again started 2012 at San Antonio. He suffered with plantar fasciitis early in the season and then tore his plantar tendon on May 31st, limiting him to 56 games and a .201 average. Despite the lost campaign, Decker entered the 2013 season ranked 23rd on Baseball America's list of Top 30 Padres prospects, with BA noting that he has a walk-first, hit-second approach at the plate and could profile as an offensive-minded reserve outfielder.

Decker advanced to Class AAA with the Tucson Padres and put up a slash of .286/.381/.443 in 105 games, yo-yo'ing between Tucson and the Padres. But in his brief NL stint of 13 games, he hit just .154, wasn't called up in September and then DFA'ed to clear space on the 40-man on November 20th. His pedigree made him too popular to clear waivers, and the Bucs had to part with minor league 1B prospect Alex Dickerson to reel him into the Pirate system.

Jaff Decker with the Bucs last season (photo: Pittsburgh Pirates via
Aside from his early upside and minor league OBP of .395, he was a 24 year old lefty outfielder with power to his pull side, always a plus for guys playing at PNC Park. He had two option years remaining, so he could stick around long enough for a good look and a little coaching. Neal Huntington noted that Decker could play all three OF positions and had a chance to break camp with the club as a bench outfielder while Gregory Polanco honed his skills and ran down his arbitration clock a little longer at Indy.

Well, that big league gig didn't materialize, and when the season started, Jaff was back at Indy. He didn't show much pop there; his slash was .257/.355/.391. He was called up a couple of times and got five at-bats, whiffing three times. That was probably due to big league anxiety, but this is his last option year and he needs to power up at Indy, his likely landing spot, especially with a crowd of young outfielders rising in the ranks. He reminds us very much of an Alex Presley with plate patience, and should vie with Jose Tabata as the first outfielder to get the call if someone goes down in Pittsburgh.

On a final note, just in case you were wondering how his folk decided to call him Jaff: He was named in honor of his uncle, a soldier who died at the age of 19 when his Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Germany. Decker's grandfather meant to name his pilot son Jeff, but scribbled the name on the birth papers and the hospital registered him as Jaff. The slightly altered name stuck and was passed on to our Jaff (pronounced Jeff).

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