Decker Decks Pitchers

Picking out a pair of prime prep prospects

With the draft just around the corner, news and information on the top prospects isn't hard to find. Guys like Pedro Alvarez, Brian Matusz and Eric Hosmer will be all over headlines and covers until they're picked. There are plenty of guys flying under the radar, however, that could be marquee picks in the early rounds of the draft on June 5. Outfielder Jaff Decker has simply dominated his competition in Peoria, Ariz., while righthander Tyler Sample has bounced back from Tommy John surgery to be a legitimate option coming out of Colorado.

Just Gonna Hit

Sunrise Mountain High's Decker started the season off right with a no-hitter against Deer Valley High, the team that eliminated him and his teammates in the previous postseason. He then belted three home runs in one game later in the season. Now in the postseason, Decker was hitting a staggering .564/.702/1.410 with 15 home runs through 78 at-bats. He's been walked 37 times, 10 of which have been intentional.

"For the most part he expects to be walked," head coach Mike Gardner said. "But he's been great about it."

Decker takes a pretty good attitude toward opposite teams' strategy. He was moved to the leadoff spot to see more pitches, but most opponents are just trying to avoid him. And when they don't, they pay.

"If they walk me I just steal second and third," Decker added. "It's also about seeing that one pitch a game and not missing it."

Hitting will be Decker's calling card, as he probably won't stick in center field. He is a strong, big-body guy expected to move to a corner. One scout said he has plenty of power to fill the role in a corner and can just flat out play. He doesn't see any glaring holes in Decker's swing and said he also has plus arm strength.

Decker is committed to Arizona State, where he has been told he will be a two-way guy, coming in from the outfield to close games.

While Decker will provide some good pop to any team, whether it be the Sun Devils or a professional organization, watch out for his antics. He's been pegged as the team prankster and doesn't hesitate to go after his coach.

"I took all of Coach Gardner's stuff one day and hid it throughout the clubhouse," Decker said. "He also wasn't hitting well in pregame one day so I took his bat."

Gardner added that he's a chair-puller too, so teammates and coaches are always keeping their eyes peeled.

Big Sample Size

Denver's Mullen High has a big arm in Sample. At 6-foot-7, 240-pounds, he's drawn comparisons to Curt Schilling because of his fastball-sinker combination and Brad Penny because of his size. Though it isn't evident through his performance, Sample hit a major roadblock on January 9, 2006, when he underwent Tommy John surgery as a high school sophomore.

"The rehab wasn't too hard," Sample said. "The hardest part was not being able to play. Baseball is what I love."

Sample obviously missed his entire sophomore season and had a "very average junior season," he said. He wasn't 100 percent until the summer of 2007, when Mark Holzemer of Slammers Baseball was able to take a look at him.

"He's pretty smooth and fluid," Holzemer said. "He hadn't pitched since his freshman year so he was jumping straight to junior year baseball. He's not a power sinker type guy, but the ball has that little second gear."

Sample's fastball comes in at 89-94 mph and he's worked the sinker at 87-88. He also has a good changeup that is 79-81 and moves away from lefties. One scout added that he has a spike curveball, but his usage has been a concern. In one week he threw 88 pitches three days after throwing over 40, then came back three days later and threw 113. Fortunately, he got a week off after those outings.

His best performances this year have easily been against Boulder's Fairview High. In their first meeting, he went seven innings, giving up an unearned run on five hits and striking out 17. Three weeks later, he faced Fairview again, allowed another unearned run in seven innings, but this time on just one hit. He also bested his previous strikeout mark, by fanning 18 in the game.

On the season, Sample has thrown 34 innings and is 4-2, 2.26 with 71 strikeouts.

"I was just on against Fairview," Sample said. "I should be able to do that every game. I didn't rush."

Sample is committed to Arkansas, but says he would probably sign if selected in the first five rounds, where he could easily end up.

Sample says baseball is his passion, but art is another hobby he's developed. He enjoys drawing when he's not doing baseball workouts and works in different mediums like colored pencils and charcoal.


• Shortstop Danny Banuelos of Mount Pleasant High (San Jose, Calif.) had his baseball career come to an abrupt standstill in mid-April. While chasing a blooper, Banuelos collided with the left fielder, whose knee struck Banuelos' temple. Banuelos blacked out for about a minute and sustained a broken jaw, cheek, nose and eye socket. He also had the alignment of his teeth shifted.

Banuelos is expected to make a full recovery, but it is unclear whether he'll return to the field before graduating this year. He has maintained a 3.8 GPA while having a career year on the field, batting .413 in 46 at-bats with 17 runs scored.

His older sister, Kristy, said the doctor has left it up to Banuelos to decide how quickly he can come back. He's been "down and out" because he has such a passion for baseball, but support from fans, teammates and coaches has helped him progress.

• Quartz Hill (Calif.) High shortstop and Loyola Marymount signee Shon Roe had two games made for the history books. Roe contributed to a 25-0 rout of Littlerock High on April 18 by hitting for the home run cycle. He was 5-for-5 with four home runs: a solo, two-run, three-run shot and grand slam. He also added a triple and drove in 12 runs while scoring five of his own. Two of his home runs came in one inning. If that wasn't enough, Roe followed it up five days later by going 3-for-3 with two more home runs and seven RBIs against Antelope Valley High (Lancaster, Calif.). In two games he was 8-for-8 with six home runs and 19 RBIs.

"I couldn't believe they continued to throw fastballs," Roe said, who had a previous high of two home runs in a season. So far, that's been upped to six.

• Lefthander Rusty Shellhorn set a Washington state record in early April by striking out 21 batters in a seven-inning game. Shellhorn attends Central Valley High (Spokane, Wash.) and had a no-hitter into the seventh when he gave up a double and infield hit.

Shellhorn was 3-2, 1.11 on the season with 75 strikeouts in 34 innings. Opponents were hitting just .120 off him and he's allowed just nine walks.

The previous record was 20 strikeouts, set by Ryan Johnson of Oak Harbor (Wash.) High in 2003. The national record is 24, set by Brett Jennings of Lingleville, Texas in 1986.

• The Washington Post reported that Stephen Wheeler, the junior varsity coach at St. Alban's (Washington, D.C.), was struck by a thrown ball in the head and had emergency surgery for a fractured skull and hematoma. The incident occurred on April 23 when the left fielder was backing up a rundown. He retrieved an overthrow and immediately spun to throw, but Wheeler was in the path as he tried to wave his runner home. He was coherent before the ambluance arrived and listed in fair condition after the surgery. The accident has raised the question of whether high school coaches should wear helmets on the field, like Major League Baseball is enforcing this season.