Tucson Padres Patrick Finley: Decker hopes shift can be majors one

2013-04-15T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:32:18Z Tucson Padres Patrick Finley: Decker hopes shift can be majors onePatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Cody Decker has the soft hands of a good catcher, but no idea about his ability to throw out base stealers.

No one's ever run on him before.

Decker caught about 20 spring training innings this year; the one time someone did, the batter hammered a ball straight back into Decker's mask.

"Felt like I was punched in the face by a really big dude," he told me before the Tucson Padres lost 11-6 to Fresno on Sunday at Kino Stadium.

Here's how a player with no position ends up at baseball's most demanding physical spot: by volunteering on a quiet winter's day in Peoria.

Decker arrived in Phoenix weeks before the San Diego Padres' spring training began. He popped over to the team's facility, first to meet the new trainer and strength coach, and later to take some swings and get in some face time.

There were more pitchers than position players. One day, the 26-year-old volunteered to catch a bullpen session.

It was no big deal - he'd done so throughout high school and college, though he never started a game at catcher at UCLA.

Padres vice president of player development Randy Smith and Tucson Padres manager Pat Murphy watched Decker behind the plate.

"They both were, actually, kinda impressed," Decker said.

Smith asked if he would consider catching, and Murphy was the first to encourage him to say yes.

At Arizona State, Murphy convinced big-league scouts to give Sun Devils outfielder Jason Kipnis a tryout at second base. He was drafted in 2009, and made the Cleveland Indians two years later.

Decker "certainly has a feel for the game" at catcher, Murphy said, from his hands to his knack for calling pitches.

The Padres devised a plan, one that's left the 2009 MILB.com Arizona Rookie League Player of the Year with only 17 Triple-A at-bats this season.

Instead, Decker spends each day doing drills and catching bullpens. He's working on his flexibility, stretching all hours of the day to make crouching easier.

"His physical tools don't play out down there like a front-line catcher," Murphy said. "If he's serviceable and can go to a club as a DH/first baseman/catcher, it might get him his day in the big leagues."

That's why Decker dons the Tools of Ignorance.

It seems strange to say that about someone who hit 25 home runs in Double-A last year. But the 5-foot-11, 220-pounder profiles as more of a DH than a corner outfielder or first baseman, positions he's played as a pro.

"They all know I can hit," said Decker, who signed for a $1,000 bonus after being picked in the 22nd round of the 2009 draft. "Finding a position for me to play full-time has always been the trouble.

"The truth is, I want to get to the big leagues, and that's all I want to do.

"It's been explained to me that this is probably my best course of action."

It's sometimes hard on Decker's ego - "There's nothing fun about getting to a field and not seeing your name in the lineup," he said - but he knows this path could change his career.

"I'm in a different situation right now then I ever have been," said Decker, who spent the offseason playing for Israel's World Baseball Classic team and working as bartender and trivia night host back home in Santa Monica, Calif. "My goal right now is to hone parts of my game I haven't honed before.

"My goal is to get good at pinch hitting and get as good behind the plate as I can."

Both Saturday and Sunday, he spent the middle innings catching bullpens before returning to the dugout, putting on a helmet and pinch hitting. He popped out in the ninth Sunday.

He could catch in a game any day now.

Do well, and another path to the big leagues opens up.

Heck, we might even see him try to throw out a runner.

"If I can catch, and hit like me," he said, "I think I can stay around for a long, long time."

Today

• Who: Fresno at Tucson

• When: 7:05 p.m.

• Radio: 1290-AM

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @PatrickFinley.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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