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If Decker Hits In Minors He’ll Have a Chance at the Big League’s:

After Cody Decker was drafted in the 22nd round by the San Diego Padres last week and expressed glee, a half dozen people asked me the same question.

“Why is he so happy?” they wondered. “The Padres have the best-hitting first baseman in baseball.”

It’s true that Adrian Gonzalez is a National League MVP candidate and is on a pace to hit close to 70 home runs this season. But it’s just as true that being selected in the draft is merely the beginning of a prospect’s professional career that can have twists and turns.

And it’s true that most players who do well in the minor leagues find their way to the majors, even though it’s sometimes with another team.

If the former Santa Monica Little League and Santa Monica High star progresses in the next few years, he could make the Padres as a versatile reserve, his experience as a third baseman and catcher improving his resume. Those were his positions before he settled in at first base for UCLA.

Or Decker could be included in a trade once he’s deemed major league ready.

The final possibility is that by the time Decker is ready, Gonzalez won’t be with the Padres anymore.

Right now it’s proper for Decker to be happy — just as he was miserable a year ago when he wasn’t drafted following a dreadful junior season at UCLA.

He came back strong, hitting .322 and leading the Pac-10 in home runs with 21. He also led the Bruins in walks, an impressive accomplishment as he showed patience at the plate despite being anxious to show pro scouts he had the capability for a baseball future.

Decker has something important going for him. There’s no doubt he has major league power. And major league teams find a place for a player who can hit the ball out of the park.

UCLA Coach John Savage, who gave Decker a scholarship when a lot of other schools passed him by, had better defensive catchers and didn’t use Decker there very much. But Savage thinks Decker could catch some professional games and do okay.

I’ve also been asked in recent days who will reach the major leagues faster, Decker or Santa Monica High pitcher Tyler Skaggs was the 40th pick in last week’s draft.

I don’t have the answer for that. Keep in mind it’s possible neither one will make it because not everyone drafted gets there.

Beyond that, Decker would figure to advance quicker since he’s older and has played against stronger competition. But he has to hit or he could be in the minor leagues a long time.

Skaggs, who won’t become 18 until next month, figures to spend the next three or four years in the minor leagues or in college. If he signs with the Angels he’ll start in a rookie league in Arizona and then go to Rancho Cucamonga or Cedar Rapids by 2011.

Hank Conger was an Angels’ first round choice a few years ago, a power-hitting catcher expected to bat in the middle of the Angels’ lineup once he advanced to Anaheim. He figured as a can’t-miss guy, but his progress has been slow. He’s at Double-A Arkansas now, seemingly on the track to Anaheim, but it’s taking longer than expected.

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