The Padres’ man for all seasons
EL PASO, TX – Cody Decker, 27, may be the best known minor league player in baseball that nobody really knows much about.
With his 19,000 plus followers on Twitter and the auteur behind two very funny short-films, the first on former Padres’ special assistant, and now Detroit Tigers’ manager, Brad Ausmus, and the more recent one this spring that went viral on an elaborate prank played on El Paso Chihuahua teammate Jeff Francoeur, he is much better known for his off the field exploits than what he’s done on it.
And on the field he hasn’t been too shabby either.
Coming into the year Decker had hit the most home runs of any active player in the minor leagues that has never played in the big leagues. Last year with AAA Tucson, and briefly for AA San Antonio, despite receiving sporadic playing time, Cody finished second in the organization in home runs with 19 and fifth in RBI at 70, despite having less plate appearances than those in front of him and many below.
"I have a lot of other interests, but I really, really enjoy playing baseball," Decker said before a recent game in El Paso.
"It’s always been that way ever since I was a kid. I’ll play wherever you want me to, as long as I get to play."
And Cody has been willing to go to pretty good lengths to play. The knock on him coming out of college, and for his first few years in professional baseball, was that he was a DH in a National League organization. But after playing five different positions and a brief stint on the pitcher’s mound during a blow-out, where he threw a scoreless frame, Cody begs to differ.
"I must be just a horrible defender because the team has played me at five different positions and I have a .994 fielding percentage so all those scouts and writers must really know what they are talking about," laughed Decker.
"I have taken endless amount of ground balls at third and first. I still take fly balls in the outfield and catch bullpens whenever I can."
He was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2009 draft as a senior out of UCLA, where a bad junior year depressed his draft status. Still despite being sent out to the short-season hell of the summertime Arizona League and with the positive monikers of "senior sign" and "organizational player" that comes with being 22 and starting at the lowest level of professional baseball, Decker flourished, hitting .354/.421/.717 and set several league records before being shipped out to Low-A Fort Wayne TinCaps for the final few games of the season.
Promoted to High-A Lake Elsinore in 2010, Decker hit 28 home runs and drove in 90, forcing the Padres to deal their top draft pick of 2008, Allen Dykstra the following spring to make room for him at first base in AA San Antonio.
With a career .881 OPS in slightly over 2,000 at-bats, the Padres have seemingly bought into the fact that there is value in him being able to play multiple positions as a type of super-utility player.
"I think the key for Cody is to keep on showing that he can play all over the field because he does have some power and a good idea of the strike zone," said Randy Smith, the Padres Vice-President of Development and International Scouting.
"During the spring he really came along with his catching where we have confidence in putting him in there."
Another role that Decker sees as a path to the big leagues is as a pinch-hitter.
"And if I did get to go to the big league that is what I would be doing, pinch-hitting and filling in. It’s a job that I think I could do right now."
"There are good things and bad things about pinch-hitting, mostly bad. The good thing is that I like being the guy up at the plate in that situation and having a chance to make a difference in the game."
Being the center of attention has always been a role that Decker has relished. In addition to making films, Cody is also the rare baseball player that is a musical theatre aficionado, whose high school production of the Music Man received favorable reviews by the LA Times, and is equally confident talking about the music of his production Damn Yankees ("great story, horrible music") as he is about the nuances of catching.
When informed that Angela Olivas, the manager for Marketing for the El Paso Chihuahuas, had doubts about his drama credentials, Decker quickly issued a challenge, stating, he wasn’t sure she would accept because it probably would be "a little embarrassing for her."
This season has been up and down for Cody as he is doing whatever it takes to get into the lineup at first, third, catcher or as a DH to keep alive his dream of making the major leagues. July has been one of the up times where he hit four home runs in his first six games.
In his down time since arriving in the Sun City, in addition to making his short film on Francoeur, he has also anchored the sports report on the local news and attracted another following on Facebook for his road trip that Snoop Dogg might find a little too gaudy.
"No, never crosses my mind," Decker smiled when asked if he was worried that someone might think all of his outside activities are a distraction.
"I love doing a bunch of other things to get my mind off of baseball and whether someone loves me or hates me it’s nice to know that they are thinking about me."
John Conniff is a contributor to FoxSports San Diego and can you follow him and all of the action in the Padres’ minor league system @madfriars on Twitter