01/01/10 10:00 AM ET
Decker breaks mold to win MiLBY
UCLA product batted .354 with 15 homers in Arizona
By Lisa Winston / MLB.com
He made his pro debut in the Rookie-level Arizona League at age 22, making him one of the older players on the circuit. At 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, the UCLA product is short and stocky -- to be kind about it. Defensively, Decker is limited to first base as a primary position and is unlikely to win a Gold Glove any time soon.
But man, he can hit. And when it comes to hitting, the prevailing logic isn't always right. Sometimes, a player with the right combination of grit, heart and bat can grind his way right to the big leagues.
No one will be happier than the Padres front office if Decker becomes one of those players. His talent has already landed him the 2009 MiLBY as Short-Season Hitter of the Year.
"Every once in a while, you find a big leaguer like this -- the odds are rare, but it happens," said Mike Wickham, the Padres' director of Minor League operations. "He could fight his way to the big leagues. We enjoy seeing this kind of thing happen. It's a testament to our scouting staff and it's good for our baseball ops department as a whole. We love to see these guys have success."
Nor will they be terribly surprised, at least not based on what they've seen in Decker's pro debut.
After being drafted in the 22nd round, Decker headed to Arizona. After starting out 1-for-18, he went on a 7-for-11 tear and never looked back. Overall, he batted .354 with 15 homers, 63 RBIs and a whopping .717 slugging percentage. He posted 22 multi-hit games, hitting .378 in July and .354 in August. He led the league in homers, RBIs, doubles (21) and slugging.
Those stats earned him Arizona League MVP and Topps/MiLB's Rookie League Player of the Year honors. Not a bad haul for a senior sign who took a $1,000 bonus to turn pro.
Though his defense may not rank high on the scouting scale, he has the right attitude, work ethic and willingness to play anywhere. He has seen time in the outfield and could even emerge as a backup catcher after catching a few bullpen sessions this season.
"He's competitive, a gamer, a 'dirt-bag' type of player who always seems to make everyone around him better," said Wickham. "He has an unorthodox swing and unorthodox actions and doesn't do things easy, but he has the intangible of playing the game right and hard."
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.