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(photo by Photos Courtesy Ken Weisenberger, Sa Missions)

VISALIA — Tyler Skaggs and Cody Decker have come a long way since their days on Santa Monica High School’s baseball diamond.

Each player has been named a starter for their respective teams as the minor league season kicks off today. Skaggs got the nod on the mound for the single-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Visalia Rawhide. Decker will start at first base for the San Diego Padres’ double-A affiliate, the San Antonio Missions.

For each former Viking standout, the opportunity to continue their march to the big leagues comes as validation of their hard work.

“I’m pretty good with it,” Skaggs said of the assignment. “Now all I have to do is work on throwing strikes and getting ahead of batters.”

The lanky left-hander, who was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Angels with the 40th overall pick of the 2009 Major League Baseball draft, has the added pressure of being considered one of the top prospects in the Arizona organization since coming over in a trade for big leaguer Dan Haren last year. Any added pressure that comes with that distinction is something the young prospect should handle with ease, said Visalia pitching coach and former Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek

“He’s obviously a young kid, but he has good poise,” Drabek said. “I like the way he handles himself.”

Like Skaggs, Decker too has quickly made a name for himself since being drafted in the 22nd round of the 2009 draft after starring at UCLA. He’s already been named the Most Valuable Player in the Arizona league in 2009 and tabbed as MLB.com’s Short-Season Best Hitter of the Year last season.

These accomplishments have the potential to build a player up too high, but Decker is unassuming as he prepares for his third year in pro ball.

“My personal goal is to just go out there and have some fun,” Decker said while riding a bus to Arkansas for the season opener. “If it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing for me.”

Despite being in a log jam on the Padres’ organizational depth chart at first base, Decker’s early-career performance has his current team curious to see what the slugger can add in their offense.

“He’s going to provide some much-needed power,” said Jim White, the Missions’ director of public relations. “Any time we get a prospect with a big reputation like Cody we get pretty excited.”

daniela@smdp.com

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