Jaff Decker says he treats the outfield like playing on a playground. And some people just aren’t allowed on his playground.
Ask Brad Glenn, for example, who Decker cut down at the plate – by a country mile – on Memorial Day.
“In left (field), you get more chances to throw more people out,” Decker said.
When the opportunity has presented itself, Decker has indeed thrown base runners out. Through the month of May, Decker is second in the International League with nine outfield assists, including nailing four would-be runs at the plate. He even threw out two Buffalo Bisons runners at home in the same game on May 26.
Decker’s arm strength dates back to his time as a pitcher for Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria, Ariz., where the two-way player said his fastball clocked speeds of 94 or 95 miles per hour.
As a freshman, Decker pitched on his school’s varsity team. As a senior, he threw a no-hitter on Opening Day. And between, Decker played the outfield, culminating in his award as the Arizona Baseball Player of the Year in 2007-08.
Decker earned a scholarship to Arizona State, where he was recruited to continue his prowess as a two-way star. But although he had everything arranged for him in Tempe, Decker passed on a collegiate career and instead opted to go pro as the San Diego Padres’ 1st-round pick in the 2008 MLB Draft.
“I got drafted where I wanted to (42nd overall),” Decker said of his decision to bypass Arizona State. “Things were close to home. Their (Padres) spring training complex was five minutes from my house so it was a pretty easy decision.”
In 2008, his first year in the minor leagues, Decker didn’t take the mound for any games with the Padres’ Arizona League team. He was strictly an everyday player in the field, focusing solely on hitting and fielding full time.
That’s didn’t stop him from trying to pitch though. One time, early in his minor league career, Decker stepped onto the mound, hoping to get a chance to toss a few pitches offhand. Needless to say, his scouting coordinator at the time didn’t enjoy the extra enthusiasm to try out for the Club’s pitching staff.
“I had a butt chewin’ a little bit after that,” Decker said.
Decker, however, concedes it was easy for him to give up pitching in the rotation, suggesting he prefers to play every day as opposed to every fifth.
“It was easy for me because I don’t feel like I could throw every fifth day or wait seven innings to throw,” he says. “It’s too boring for me. I’ve got to hit every day and play every day.”
The power in Decker’s left arm has made a seamless transition to the outfield, where it seems that, at any moment, he can take down a base runner with a laser-like throw. He said the key to his powerful arm – from an unsuspecting frame – is getting behind the ball as much as possible to create the momentum needed to hurl the ball 300-plus feet to home plate.
“I can’t make it flat-footed, so I’ve got to really make an effort on coming through the ball and making the throw home.”
Decker, who believes he has the strongest arm on the Indians (“I’m not sure [on the numbers], but I think I have the assists to back it up,” he laughs) has had a successful first season in the Pirates organization. In 41 games for the Indians, he’s reached base at a .344 clip, racked up 20 RBI and slugged three homers, all which go along with his defensive contributions on the field.
In addition, Decker was also recalled to the big leagues on May 12, where he appeared in three games for the Tribe’s parent team, the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Through the ups and downs of the campaign, where he hit .185 in his first 24 games before cranking out a .317 average in his last 19, Decker says his defensive abilities have always remained constant. And that attribute has been essential for a player who wants to do anything and everything to help his Club find the win column.
“It’s a good feeling when you’re not doing what you want at the plate and you can still affect the game on defense,” Decker said.
“It’s how I came up. If you can effect the game in anyway – defense, offense, on the bases – you can go home and sleep a little bit easier at night if another part of the game wasn’t working.”