By Jim Colony

BRADENTON (93-7 The Fan) — Going into the 2015 season, outfielder Jaff Decker wasn’t given much of a chance – at least by most Pirates fans – of winning the final roster spot. But, a little over halfway through Spring Training, Decker may now be the favorite to go north.

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Drafted by San Diego 42nd overall out of high school, the diminutive Decker was a promising Padres prospect before a foot injury in 2012 derailed his rise. He played well enough in Triple-A in 2013 to get a 2-week look in San Diego, but hit only .154 and was shipped to Pittsburgh in the off-season.

While a change of scenery may have been welcome, in Pittsburgh Decker was – and is – looking at a roster loaded with young outfield talent, plus veteran Travis Snider who ended up being a key contributor in the stretch run to another Wild Card spot.

But, Snider is gone – traded for future pitching help – so even though the McCutchen-Marte-Polanco trio will be unchallenged for the next four years, Snider’s spot is now open.

Decker and Andrew Lambo are believed to be the top candidates because they bat left-handed, but switch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi could make a run, along with veteran Jose Tabata and maybe even Tony Sanchez, who has been the hottest hitter this spring and would bring a third catcher into the mix. That’s an “interesting concept,” according to Manager Clint Hurdle.

Decker relishes the competition.

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“It’s tough, but it pushes each and every one of us,” Decker said. “The hits that [Sanchez] is getting, that Lambo is getting makes us better.”

Interestingly, Andrew McCutchen has been slowed by a lower-body injury and his absence has created chances for Decker and others.

“Cutch is our horse,” Decker said. “So, let him get healthy and we’ll take all the ABs we need and want out there.”

Despite an 0-for-2 Tuesday, Decker also drew another walk and is batting .313 with an on-base percentage of .421. He also has a double and a home run.

“That final bench spot, we’re just grinding and having fun doing it.”

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