Jaff Decker & The San Diego Outfield, Now & Later

As the season heads into the last six weeks, things get funky. It happened earlier in Miami, where September roster expansion seems to happen in May these days. But in San Diego, it’s about that time. Coolstandings has the squad with a less than one percent chance for the postseason, and the team’s Vaunted Slugger has a busted wheel. The team doesn’t really have a top prospect ready to take over out there, either — this is the recipe for full-time plate appearances for a readily-available player. AKA fantasy gold.

Opportunity is half the battle, so we’ll drill down to find if there are any nuggets here. San Diego seems to have a problem producing position player prospects, so the talent that might take the opportunity is a little less exciting. In fact, they could be running out their all-home-grown outfield right now and you wouldn’t notice. It gets worse — even with Carlos Quentin out with a sprained knee, the team could field an outfield full of players that are under team control next season: Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, and perhaps, soon, Cameron Maybin.

Maybin isn’t up yet, though, so there’s at least a week-long opening. And both Venable and Denorfia have mostly spent their careers in platoons, so even when Maybin returns (he’s 1-10 so far in his rehab stint but doesn’t feel ready), there might at least be a corner outfield spot for a young Padre to enjoy.

Usually that honor would go to big Kyle Blanks, but he’s trying to come back from an Achilles problem. In the meantime, we’ll get another look at Alexi Amarista and Jaff Decker.

Amarista was an infielder before his trade to the Padres, and has spent time at second and short so far this season. He could still get some looks at short, but his glove doesn’t really play there long-term. The five-foot-seven behemoth packs a little more punch than you might think, but not more than your average big leaguer. He once stole 38 bags in High-A, but has stolen a meager 13 over the last two seasons and has gotten his second-most at-bats this season in the eight hole, where stolen bases go to die. Since he’s behind Jedd Gyorko, Logan Forsythe and Chase Headley in the infield, center field offers him a chance to… hit about .260 with little power or speed until Cameron Maybin returns. That’s hard to tout even for deep leagues.

Jaff Decker hit his first major league home run last night. The open question is how many more he’ll hit.

After being selected as the 42nd pick in the first round of the 2008 draft, Decker tore up rookie ball, walking one and half times as much as he struck out and hitting for power and stealing bases. This had him rocket into Baseball America’s top 100. 2009 and 2010 didn’t really change much, except that his strikeout rate started to rise. But with power and speed and a walk rate that still trumped his league-average-ish strikeout rate, he was still all-systems-go. 2011’s jump to Double-A brought his worst strikeout rate (23.7%) and, correspondingly, his worst batting average (.236).

Still, he might have remained a top prospect if it weren’t for 2012. That year, plantar fasciitis (“it was like a nail stuck in my foot“) slowed him and finally felled him with surgery.

This year, Decker has come back and shown he’s healthy. He’s cut the strikeout rate, which is good news, but now the power has gone a bit south as well. His .157 ISO in Triple-A is only ten points above the league average for the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He’s a little slimmer, and he’s playing the outfield better, and his strikeout rate is down…

But from a fantasy perspective, there are plenty of warning signs. League-average power going into a power-depressing park, particularly one that has killed lefty power in the past. A strikeout rate that has never quite dropped to league-average in the minor leagues. Questions about athleticism. Four steals against six caught stealings. Power numbers that were 20% worse against left-handers in the minor leagues.

If Maybin gets healthy this year, Decker could still platoon with Chris Denorfia while Carlos Quentin is out (making Venable and Maybin every-day starters). If Kyle Blanks comes back as well, and Decker is on fire, Blanks could platoon with the rookie and push Denorfia back into a time share with Venable. These are best-case scenarios: short-term playing time that might morph into a platoon role to end the season. There just isn’t much of a window for Decker, and it doesn’t get much better next year.

The best deep dynasty owners can hope for is that Decker plays well and convinces his management that he is worthy of an extended spring look, and perhaps a fourth-outfielder type role next season. In the short term, he’s likely to take some walks and be an asset in NL-only leagues using on-base percentage.

We hoped you liked reading Jaff Decker & The San Diego Outfield, Now & Later by Eno Sarris!

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Don’t you think Fuentes will get a lot of abs with the Pads in September? He seems to have made some big adjustments after that abysmal 2012. BB% up with a corresponding drop in K%. Maybe he’s figured out what kind of player he is(slash/walk/run). I’m thinking the Pads need to take a long look at him to see if he has full-time potential before making their off-season OF decisions. They have way too many platoon parts and injury risks out there.