PEORIA, Ariz. ‚Äî After spending five seasons primarily playing first base in the San Diego Padres farm system, Cody Decker comes into spring training returning to his Santa Monica High School roots as a catcher.
As a high school senior, Decker was Samohi‚Äôs version of Mike Piazza; hitting .490 with 11 home runs and 40 RBI while leading the Vikings to a 20-10 record in the 2005 season.
Decker was recruited to UCLA for his power bat, but didn‚Äôt play catcher for the Bruins. Instead, he was their first baseman and designated hitter with an occasional game in the outfield every now and then. As a senior, Decker won the then Pac-10 home run title in 2009 with 21 bombs.
“I‚Äôm like a 12-year-old,” Decker said, “as long as I can hit, I don‚Äôt really care.”
It wasn‚Äôt until a year ago before Decker got the Padres to start looking at him as a catcher. Even though it‚Äôs all about getting in the lineup, Decker prefers being a catcher for all the nuances that comes with the position.
“It‚Äôs fun,” Decker said. “I enjoy controlling the game. I enjoy coming up with the game plan and attacking it with the pitcher.”
Decker got 10 games in as a catcher in Triple-A Tucson in 2013. However, there are still some adjustments that need to be made when reconverting to catcher like footwork and flexibility.
“It‚Äôs the little things in catching that are important,” Decker said. “Receiving is the biggest thing. The goal is for me not to be noticed. Anytime you know a catcher is doing well is when you don‚Äôt really notice him. He‚Äôs just catching the ball, he‚Äôs just receiving it well and making (the pitcher) look good.”
The Padres have plenty of depth at the catcher position. Nick Hundley hit a career high 13 home runs in 2013 despite not playing a full season‚Äôs worth of games. Yasmani Grandal has star potential despite being derailed last season due to injuries and a 50-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs. Austin Hedges is the No. 2 rated prospect in the Padres‚Äô organization and scouts have given him high grades.
How Decker fits with the catching crew is by being defensively capable and being that power bat the Padres so desperately need.
“The idea is not for me to become Johnny Bench back there,” Decker said. “The idea is that I can hit. I‚Äôm a hitter. That‚Äôs what I‚Äôve always been.”
In the minors, Decker has hit 28 home runs in 2010 at single-A Lake Elsinore and 25 home runs in 2012 at double-A San Antonio. So he definitely has a track record for power, and that with versatility is very rare in baseball; never mind a power-hitting catcher.
If availability is the best ability, versatility will enable Decker to break camp with the Padres as their super utility man.