Before Tyler Skaggs, there was Cody Decker at Santa Monica High.
Unlike Skaggs, who is expected to be a first round choice in the major league selections on June 9 and 10, Decker is projected to be chosen somewhere between the 15th and 25th rounds.
They’ve taken different paths, but they’re Samohi’s most decorated players of the recent past.
Skaggs represents everything scouts like. He’s a 6-foot-4 left handed pitcher with a 94-mph fastball and an excellent curve. He’s only 17 and has vast potential. Many scouts regard him as a future starting pitcher on a major league team.
“He’s a great pitcher and a great young man,” said Rob Duron, Skaggs’ Samohi coach the last two years.
Decker ranks similarly high as a young man and I’ve heard scouts say he’ll be a success in life regardless of what he chooses. At Samohi he had the lead in “The Music Man,” and performed in the play a few hours after playing in an extra inning Viking game one memorable Saturday.
But his path in baseball has been more difficult and it was possible he wouldn’t have a professional career until he had an outstanding senior season at UCLA, batting .322 and leading the Pac-10 Conference in home runs with 21.
Scouts wondered what his position would be other than Designated Hitter. He played third base at Samohi, and then switched to catcher in his senior year.
Some college coaches passed him by, but UCLA’s John Savage saw his potential. Decker, a power hitter since his days in the Santa Monica Little League, was not an accomplished defensive catcher but settled in at UCLA as a first baseman. Even that seemed risky because he is 5-foot-11 and right handed, not tall and left handed like coaches prefer at that position.
But Decker made all-Pac 10 as a sophomore in 2007.
Then he had a dreadful 2008 season, having difficulty adjusting to a different hitting approach required by the Bruins’ batting coach. When several teammates were drafted a year ago — which is commonplace for college juniors –Decker wasn’t chosen in any round and had little option other than returning to Westwood for his senior year.
The hitting coach was dismissed; Decker regained his stroke and was one of three Bruins who made first team all-conference this season.
He’s a few years older and not coveted like Skaggs. But it’s believed he’ll be chosen and will have an opportunity to progress through the minor leagues.
There’s a phrase among scouts that a prospect can hit a ball out of any park, including Yellowstone. That phrase applies to Decker.
But he’s become more than a power hitter.
“Because he’s shorter than many first basemen there’s a tendency to think he’d be a liability there defensively, but he makes all the plays,” said Kevin Brockway, who was Decker’s coach at Samohi. “He’s simply a ballplayer.”
Brockway, now an assistant baseball coach at West Los Angeles College, has stayed in close touch with Decker and attended many UCLA games.
He recalls a 2007 game when Decker helped beat USC with a textbook hook slide to avoid the catcher’s tag and score.
“He showed the instincts of a winner,” said Brockway.
At UCLA, Brockway totaled 47 home runs in his four years to tie for seventh on the Bruins’ all-time career homer list. In the process he passed Garret Atkins, now a star with the Colorado Rockies.
Decker led UCLA this season in RBI (53), runs (55) and walks (36). He had a .997 fielding percentage, committing only one error in 313 chances. In his Bruin career his fielding average was .995, with just three errors in 653 chances.
Now he awaits the draft to see how those accomplishments are rated.