If all baseball articles posted online followed Twitter’s hashtag format, then #prospects would be a Worldwide Trend right now.
Analysts everywhere are crafting their top lists and blowing up websites and blogs. Books are lining store shelves and arriving in mailboxes to the collective glee of their recipients. Alexander Pope’s famous phrase, “Hope springs eternal…” is becoming more and more a reality for many organizations, San Diego in particular.
So, let’s continue in this vein.
In previous FF articles, I’ve looked at some prospects you may not have heard about. Guys like Connor Powers and Matt Jackson who, with another solid season, could crack the prospect list in a deep system. For this piece, I’m going to discuss Decker, a prospect many will be familiar with. No…not Jaff Decker. That other Decker: Cody Decker.
Decker was drafted in 2009 during the 22nd round out of UCLA. Over 191 games with the Bruins, Decker batted .288 with 47 HRs, 28 2Bs, and 153 RBI. His 21 HRs during the 2009 season led the Pac-10. On the glovework side, in 653 chances at 1B, Decker made just three errors, good for a .995 FLD%.
His debut in professional ball was worth noticing. In 198 ABs with the AZL Padres (Rookie), Decker hit: .354/.421/.717 (1.138 OPS…gulp). He was subsequently called up to Ft. Wayne (Low-A) at season’s end but only managed 18 ABs. For the 2010 season, the organization opted for Decker to skip Low-A, and the move paid off. In 507 ABs at High-A Lake Elsinore, Decker hit: .270/.352/.513 (.865 OPS). He clubbed 28 homers and and knocked in 90 RBI. He also found the two-bag out of the box an impressive 35 times. Scouts and analysts alike were starting to take notice, as Decker found his way on many of the top lists.
So, why is he glaringly absent on this year’s lists? Good question.
This past season, Decker moved up to Double-A San Antonio. He only managed 177 ABs, hitting .237/.289/.525 (.815 OPS). The lack of at bats can be attributed to a devastating stay on the disabled list. Decker sustained a third degree ankle sprain while trying to beat out a grounder at first. The injury might as well have been a broken ankle, as Decker went on the DL on May 22, 2011 and wasn’t reinstated until August 23. Decker came back strong, however, including an impressive run in the playoffs where his Missions finished as Texas League Champions. In seven games, he went 9-25 (.360) with three homers and three doubles, when the games mattered most.
Obviously, missing the meat of the season, 2011 really shouldn’t count in the books as far as his status is concerned, but prospect analysis is very much a “what have you done for me lately” perspective. Myron pointed this out very astutely in the case of Simon Castro. His elite status was stripped away pretty quickly. In Decker’s case, one season of injury has unfairly (in my opinion) taken him off the radar as well.
Fangraphs’ advanced info on Decker is also worth studying. Granted, minor league data isn’t as rich as major league data, but some of the basic advanced stats work just fine. It’s the predicting major league success from minor league numbers part that gets tricky. I’m currently working on a formula that will determine major league success based on minor league numbers. However, since that’s not complete just yet, I’ll speculate on Decker here shortly.
During his Rookie season in 2009, Decker’s BB% was a nice 8.3%. His K% sat at 18.4%. But the ISO is really interesting: .364. For some context, at the MLB level, Jose Bautista’s ISO in 2010 was the league best at .357. Definitely not a one-to-one translation, but the reference gives you some idea. In Decker’s case: fantastic pop, excellent discipline, and striking out around league average. I’ll take that.
During Decker’s 2010 campaign in High-A, he increased his BB% to 10.3. Unfortunately his K% also increased, in this case to 23.2. For a quasi-context, MLB average for BB% in 2010 was 8.0% and for K% it was 20.7%. The ISO, however, remained impressive at a .243 clip. Even during his limited Double-A season, his ISO totaled .288. Granted, the BB% dropped (5.8) and the K% increased (31.1), but a right-handed power threat will always have a spot on San Diego’s shopping list.
The question is, where will he play? Another good question. Glad I asked.
The bulk of his time has been spent at 1B. Unfortunately for Decker, though, 5’11” and 220 LBS doesn’t exactly profile well for an MLB first baseman. Don’t let the size factor prohibit consideration for the position, however. He as a total of 158 games at first and has committed only 13 errors in 1,467 chances, good for an impressive .991 FLD%. Further complicating the issue for Decker, though, is the trade for Yonder Alonso. Decker is a year older and will have to watch Alonso completely fall on his face before he gets consideration. Decker’s been run out to left field and third base but only for a grand total of one game each. He saw a total of seven games in left in his college career. In college, he was primarily a DH, so from my perspective, Decker might be better served on an AL team that can see him split time between first base and DH.
I’d hate to see San Diego lose a player like Decker, but I think, for his sake, a change to an AL organization would give him two avenues to pursue a big league career because his bat projects to play at this point. If he stays in San Diego, he becomes another slugger looking for a home behind the likes of: Jesus Guzman, Kyle Blanks, Logan Forsythe, James Darnell, and Matt Clark. He’ll likely start the season back in Double-A San Antonio to show that he can still swing it. If healthy, there’s no reason he couldn’t produce: .280/.370/.560, if not even better.
What happens from there will be determined by what happens to Guzman and Alonso at the big league level and Matt Clark in Triple-A. Though, Clark can play a respectable outfield. But the way the club fell all over themselves for Alonso, he’s going to have every chance in the world to be successful. It’s a tough outlook from a San Diego roster standpoint, but baseball is always filled with opportunities.
I do believe, that big league talent finds the big leagues, and I see Decker as possessing that talent. It’s simply a matter of when and where he gets his shot.