Padres Prospect Interview: Jaff Decker

Jaff Decker

Lake Elsinore, CA: On August 18, Jaff Decker broke his hand in a game against Inland Empire which, with two weeks left in the season, ended his year. Decker, 20, will finish at a very respectable .262/.374/.500 with 17 home runs and 58 RBI in 79 games but that doesn't really capture the type of season he put together this year.

He pulled a hamstring the day before spring training which caused him to miss all of the spring and the first six weeks of the season, which greatly threw off his timing. Once he got back to where he would have been, Decker hit .305/.439/.616 in the second half including a blazing .360/.492/.860 in August before getting hurt. He had eight home runs and 25 RBI in 14 games in his last month.

First we need to diffuse the "Latos Controversy". When I spoke with him in Washington DC he said that you came to PETCO when you were struggling and he gave you a pep talk and some bats and that he is the reason behind your success.

So how much of your turnaround do you owe to Mr. Latos?

[Edit- Just to be clear, Latos jokingly asked me to get Decker's reaction on this. They are friends and hang out some in the off-season].

Jaff Decker: I'll give him some credit. I went and saw him that first month when I was up here and struggling. I let him know that he was having a great year and he brought two bats out and my average has gone up from .190 where it was.

I think the way he has been playing this year he owes me a little too. [laughs]

You were a pretty good pitcher in high school. So you ever give him any tips on the mound.

Jaff Decker: Oh yeah, a little bit here and there when he is struggling...[laughs]. No, no he is having a great season and its all on how hard he has worked.

How tough on it was you mentally to have to sit out the first part of the year especially since you came into spring in such good shape. You dropped about fifteen pounds from last season?

Jaff Decker: A little bit just because I did work so hard in the off-season with our strength coach Dan Morrison. I owe quite a bit of what I accomplished to him working with me everyday. I lost a lot of weight and gained some strength. The day before spring training, I pulled my hammy and had really wanted to show all of the naysayers about my body type.

I didn't have the strength that I had in my legs when I first started out here that I had going into spring training. There you get those 15 games which is around 50 at-bats so that hurt me.

I finally feel in mid-season shape (right before he broke his hand). I think I am finally over that hump.

You always strive to be a humble guy but you have put up some numbers throughout your amateur and professional career. Have you ever struggled as much as you did the first month you were in Lake Elsinore?

Jaff Decker: I think that is the first time in sports that I have failed. Its going to happen, especially in baseball, but it had never happened to me. Skube [Bob Skube the Lake Elsinore hitting coach] sat me down and told me that I just had to take it a game at a time, an at-bat at a time and a pitch at a time. That really helped.

My dad had never seen it happen, and he helped me a lot too. He told me that I didn't put up the numbers I did last year as a fluke. He also said to slow the game down. It was hard but it happens to big leaguers, my friends who are in the game and it was just the first time that it has happened to me.

So it was good to come out of it in the second half.

When I watch your swing so much of it is based on timing and rhythm that if it is off just a little bit it seems like the difference between a pop-up to second and something that goes over the right field wall.

Jaff Decker: Exactly. I work very hard on timing and pitch recognition. I believe that I can see the pitch out of the pitcher's hand pretty well. I've had to work on my stance pretty hard this year, tweaking things and making adjustments; but that is part of the game too. I feel like changing my stance has made it a little easier and helped me make adjustments to what were holes in my swing.

I closed up my stance from last year, which has helped to even out some holes in my swing that were there last year.

Has it affected your power at all? Your old open stance generated so much of a whip with the bat.

Jaff Decker: That is one thing I've worked on with my dad ever since I was little in getting the head out and generating that whip. With my new stance not really. I think it has taken away more problems. The beginning of the year, I think my power wasn't there because of my hamstring but now it feels a hundred percent.

A hamstring is a tricky injury that it takes awhile to trust it.

Jaff Decker: True because you feel if you take that quick step its going to pop. I've never pulled a muscle or pulled anything - I've broken bones in sports before - I could feel it for awhile that it would tense up. It took a long time but finally it has come around.

You have a good arm, were going to ASU as a relief pitcher as well as a hitter, but you are always in left. Has the team thought of putting you in right?

Jaff Decker: I haven't heard anything and the only game that I played in right was when Hairston was in left. I love to throw the ball and get yelled at for maybe throwing too much. Its one of the ways that you can help your pitcher out and keep runs off of the board.

You see quite a few guys come into spring training in great shape but by the middle of the season its kind of gone because of the schedule of 140 games in five months. What have you done to stay in the shape that you were in during the spring?

Jaff Decker: A big part of it is diet. When you wake up try to get something in your body and make something for after the game. Usually fruit or salads and I'm even learning how to cook. You can feel it when you eat fast food so I am really trying.

What is the biggest improvement you have seen in your game since coming into pro ball?

Jaff Decker: When I got drafted my first year it really helped that I still got to live at home so it was a pretty good transition to the pro game. Last year, going to Fort Wayne, the family couldn't really make that many trips so it really helped me rooming with Cumby [Drew Cumberland] and Blake [Tekotte] where I kind of got some different perspectives, Drew who came out of high school like me a year earlier and Blake who was in college in Miami.

How to take everyday for what it is. The biggest learning tool for me was that there are 140 games and how to play everyday.

For example, the slump that I had this year. I was 25 games in hitting about .150 and stressing and the older guys were pointing out that there are over 100 games left. That is the biggest thing to me is that you can't let yesterday affect today.

Its easy to say but I had to learn how to live it this year.

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