BROOKLYN, N.Y. – Nick Decker was all but ready to begin his professional baseball career. The Seneca High School graduate was poised to prove he belonged among the top prospects in the Boston Red Sox system, but his season ended prematurely last July when he injured his wrist taking a swing in the Gulf Coast League.
The setback, though frustrating, allowed Decker to concentrate his focus on the upcoming season and become better equipped to handle challenges.
“It was frustrating to not be on the field my first year, but it was also a really good learning experience to watch from the sidelines,” Decker explains. “You learn things about the game watching that you don’t see playing. To have that in under my belt, I know I’m more experienced and I know what to expect.”
The injury was far from what Decker envisioned when opted to turn pro out of high school. The 19-year-old committed to Maryland during his senior season and could have joined the Terrapins as one of their top recruits had Boston not taken him in the early rounds of the draft.
The decision to choose a professional career out of school isn’t easy for most amateur athletes, especially with a greater learning curve. But Decker believed he would get a head start on his baseball career, given his relative youth.
“This is a dream come true to play professional baseball,” he said. “I want to play in the big leagues one day and play for a world-class organization like the Red Sox, and when that phone call came, it was a no-brainer. I’m excited to be here and work hard to get to the big leagues.”
The Boston Red Sox spent much of the last decade developing and cultivating position players through their minor league system, thanks to keen early-round selections, such as Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr, who were instrumental in their most recent World Series championship. As those prospects matriculated to Boston, the task fell on general manager Dave Dombrowski to replenish talent within their minor league system.
Decker was central to those plans providing an infusion of youth in the second round of the 2018 draft.
“The day I was drafted was something I’ll never forget,” Decker said. “To be able to spend that day with my family and friends was super special and find out it was the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox area scout Ray Fagnant I dealt with for a year before. He is a great guy and to be a part of this organization is a dream come true and I’m grateful to put this uniform on.”
“A lot of guys who aren’t from the northeast or Jersey do not think of Jersey as a good baseball state, but obviously the best player in the world in Mike Trout is from Jersey,” Decker continued. “I can’t wait to see the guys that are in the minor leagues from Jersey keep climbing and get to the big leagues one day.”
A native of Southampton, New Jersey, Decker was a 2017-18 Gatorade Player of the Year for Seneca High School, batting .468 with seven home runs and 34 walks as a senior. Decker also tried his hand at pitching, tossing 76 1/3 innings with 132 strikeouts.
While prospects like Hunter Greene and Brendan McKay intend to become two-way players in the professional ranks, Decker will exclusively play the outfield. The position served him well as he became the first outfielder in the state to receive the Gatorade Player of the Year since Mike Trout.
“It was obviously, a very humbling award to win,” he said. “To be recognized with a player of his caliber with his name in the same sentence is a blessing. I just want to keep working hard. My goal is to be the best player in the league one day. I just try to model myself after Trout’s game and go about my business the right way. To win that award was special and I’m grateful.”
“I enjoyed pitching for my team in high school,” Decker said. “I would do anything to give them a chance to win. We had a great team that senior season. It was fun even though we came up short of winning a state championship. I had a lot of fun pitching, but there was no talk of doing that in the pros.”
Decker’s high school pitching background serves him well as a defender in the outfield where he has a strong throwing arm and capability to play center and both corner spots. At the plate, he features a slight uppercut and raw power to his pull side, but can also drive the ball to the opposite field. Decker also shows a plus batting eye and doesn’t chase many pitches out of the zone. The advanced approach will be positive for him as he faces improved competition and pitchers with more secondary offerings.
“Honestly, a lot of people view me as a pull for power type of hitter, but I’ve been working on trying to drive the ball to all fields,” he said. “Being a consistent hitter that hits for average is important. Over time the power will come. I’m trying to stay within myself and not do too much. I had to adjust to the speed of the game and the type of pitching. It’s the same game wherever you play once you get adjusted.”
Fully healed from his wrist injury, Decker shows little signs of a setback, adapting quickly to the speed of short-season baseball in the New York-Penn League. In his first seven games, Decker has a slash line of .273/.345/.545 and a .890 OPS. The Lowell Spinners enter the season with a deep roster, featuring four of MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 prospects (Decker, Antoni Flores, Gilberto Jimenez, and Nick Northcutt) and 2019 second-round pick Cameron Cannon. The bevy of young talent motivates each prospect to prove themselves to their peers and help the Red Sox replenish their pipeline in the lower levels of the system.
“It’s awesome to play against these guys because you end up competing against each other in BP or in the cage or with the velo machine,” Decker said. “We make competitions out of everything, so it is a lot of fun. With this year’s draft, you are able to meet the new guys that enter the organization and welcome them back to the field. We help each other out after every at-bat, we are talking to each other in the dugout and help each other get better because we all want to get to the big leagues. We have a close group here and we’re pushing each other to get there.”