On Base and Power. Its the classic recipe for major league corner outfield success, even if the player embodying said skills has scarcely a game in the big leagues. This logic led Pirates GM Neal Huntington to recently complete his first “major” deal of the offseason, sending first base prospect Alex Dickerson to the Padres for outfielder Jaff Decker and reliever Miles Mikolas.
Mikolas, 24, has the most major league experience of the group at a meager 27 games and, with a 3.44 ERA, has had limited success in that span, but Decker, a potential 10 HR/.365 OBP fourth outfielder, is clearly the centerpiece and the man who will have the most impact on 2014 Pirates. A first round pick out of high school, Decker had an up and down minor league career prior to 2013. He began by showing incredible plate discipline and moderate power, making Baseball America’s top 100 prior to 2010 thanks to a ridiculous .442 OBP and slightly less impressive .514 SLG as a 19 year old in A ball. While he has always maintained those skills, his ability to make contact – and subsequently his average – have been suspect. In 2011, he hit 19 home runs and ranked second in all of minor league baseball with 103 walks, but also struck out 145 times and hit .236. His stock hit an all time low the following year when he hit .184 in 47 Double-A games wile battling injuries.
This year, however, Decker put it all together. He maintained his on base ability with a .381 mark, kept up his 10 home run power, and cut his strike out rate to a respectable, if less than perfect 23% (major league average is 19.9%), leading to his highest average – .286 – in four seasons. He even played a decent center field to boot, although he shouldn’t be placed there for any extended period in the big leagues.
Decker won’t be given the opportunity to start next season and he is probably not a big league regular down the road either. Rather, he will start 2014 as the Pirates primary fourth outfielder, providing patience and the occasional pop off the bench. Regardless of whether or not he fully succeeds in that capacity, he will certainly be better than the Buc’s 2013 fourth outfielder, Travis Snider. In 111 games, the former elite prospect hit .215 with a .281 OBP and just five home runs – a cold lesson to fans who put their faith in unproven minor leaguers.
The Padres didn’t get an elite prospect in return (they did only give up a minor league reliever and an unproven fourth outfielder), but Alex Dickerson has legitimate value. He doesn’t have a high ceiling, but he’s an advanced hitter who is all but guaranteed to at least make the majors at least as the old quadruple-A occasional call up and pinch hitter. MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, impressed by Dickerson’s control of the strike zone and potential power, slotted the young first baseman in at #11 on his Padres top 20 prospect following the trade. His ceiling is probably that of a competent fielder who hits .290 with a .350 on base, and 20-25 home runs, although the cavernous Petco Park could ultimately prevent him from reaching those heights.