Decker, Valdez, and the Next Big Things

I was listening to a San Antonio Missions game over the Internet last week. The Missions won at home against Corpus Christi. Left-hander Pedro Hernandez worked six scoreless and picked up the win, with Sawyer Carroll and Jaff Decker providing much of the offense.

We’ve talked about Decker’s struggles this year, and a few items from last Wednesday’s contest are worth noting…

  • Decker started and played the entire game in center field. He is not a center fielder, but he has played three games there this year. I continue to believe that concerns about Decker’s body type and defensive ability are overstated. As the cliche goes, he will never sell jeans… but then, most pants models don’t have his secondary skills.
  • The Missions radio announcers wondered if Decker might be too patient at the plate (i.e., not aggressive enough). In general, I don’t love this line of thinking; that said, he has failed to make contact in more than 42 percent of his plate appearances. This isn’t quite Jack Cust territory, but it’s a pretty high number (and a shade higher than Decker’s more typical 36-38 percent of the past couple seasons).
  • The announcers also mentioned that someone in the organization (roving instructor Tony Muser, I believe) had altered Decker’s stance so that it is less open than it used to be. They wondered why the Padres would fix something that wasn’t broken, which is a good question.

One other interesting aspect of Decker’s 2011 campaign is his home/road splits. San Antonio’s Wolff Stadium, much like Petco Park, is an extreme pitchers park. Decker appears to have modified his approach at home this year:

      PA   BA  OBP  SLG  ISO  BB%   K%
Home 238 .257 .422 .388 .131 21.8 21.8
Road 270 .212 .341 .428 .216 14.8 25.9

(Note that minor-league PA splits are difficult to ascertain. From what I can tell, the splits at FirstInning don’t include HBP or SH, which causes a slight OBP mismatch from; these are accurate to within… well, they’re good enough for government work.)

Just going from the numbers, it looks like Decker has been more aggressive in environments where he can do damage (i.e., not Wolff Stadium) and more content to take what comes his way in those where he cannot. This may or may not mean anything, but if his ability to provide offense in a ballpark that suppresses the same is legitimate, it should serve him well when he arrives in San Diego in September 2012.

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While we’re on the subject of splits, have you noticed what shortstop Jeudy Valdez is doing at Lake Elsinore this year? Valdez isn’t a stud prospect — he is 22 years old and has some serious holes in his game, most notably a complete inability to control the strike zone — but I like him and think he could be useful. Check out the difference between his first and second half:

          PA   BA  OBP  SLG HR SB CS
Pre-ASB  240 .272 .308 .382  2 14  6
Post-ASB 206 .304 .345 .582 10 13  3

The California League is a notorious hitters league, thanks mainly to the ballparks in High Desert and Lancaster. The Diamond at Lake Elsinore is not a hitters park, and Valdez has not been padding his numbers on the road:

      PA   BA  OBP  SLG HR
Home 233 .293 .326 .468  5
Road 213 .280 .324 .480  7

Where Valdez has been padding his numbers is against left-handed pitchers:

        PA   BA  OBP  SLG HR
vs RHP 338 .253 .302 .383  5
vs LHP 108 .387 .398 .745  7

This could be a limiting factor at some point, but so could a lot of things with Valdez. Again, I don’t think he is going to be great, but I like his skill set and suspect that there might be more projection here than some observers believe.

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I’d wanted to talk about San Antonio second baseman Vincent Belnome as well, but I’m out of time, so that will have to wait for some other day. Meanwhile, I leave you with a couple items of potential interest:

  • The latest group project at Baseball Prospectus looks back at some great baseball brawls. Not that we’re in the habit of celebrating violence, but it is a part of the game. I got to cover the Izzy Alcantara karate kick.
  • It’s time again for the Perfect Game All-American Classic. The game will take place at Petco Park, this Sunday (August 14) at 5 p.m. Last year’s event, which I attended, featured Padres 2011 draft pick Austin Hedges among others. If you haven’t been, I encourage you to go. It’s cheap, it’s fun, and you could see the next Jason Heyward.