We have been talking about the possibility of the Tampa Bay Rays signing a righty-hitting infielder for a long time, and yesterday they finally made the move. Jake Elmore does not represent the high-profile acquisition that people had in mind–while he stands out for his versatility, his best-case scenario is a big league bench player. However, he does represent a player with a chance to earn a role as a backup infielder with the team at some point this season.
Positional flexibility is always going to be Elmore’s calling card. A primary second baseman in the minor leagues, Elmore is a passable shortstop who can play literally everywhere else. He can play every infield and outfield position, and the Houston Astros even trusted him to catch one game. In addition, like most utility infielders, he can pitch an inning in a blowout.
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Elmore’s versatility, though, only matters if he can hit enough to use it. Elmore’s 221 big league plate appearances don’t paint a positive picture of his offensive ability as he has just .221/.288/.291 line (60 OPS+). However, the sample size is so small and Elmore did look better in the season where he saw the most time. In 2013 for the Astros, Elmore hit to a .242/.313/.325 line (79 OPS+), including a .286/.352/.347 line (99 sOPS+) and more walks then strikeouts against left-handed pitching.
Elmore’s minor league numbers are also quite good. He has a .290/.385/.388 line overall, and that actually goes up .313/.407/.422 during his time at Triple-A. Since 2011, he even has a .322/.403/.431 against lefties, once again with more walks than strikeouts. Elmore has shown a nice combination of contact and plate discipline–especially versus left-handers–and he has also featured solid speed.
The issue with Jake Elmore at the plate, though, is the same malady that prevents plenty of good minor league players from succeeding in the major leagues: a lack of power. Elmore has never hit more than 5 home runs in the minor leagues, and he may not have the secondary skills to make up for that.
He has a good eye, but pitchers won’t be afraid of attacking him knowing that he won’t hit the ball with much authority. His speed is nice–he can beat out some infield singles and steal a few bases–but he isn’t enough of a burner that he can survive in the major leagues without being a solid hitter. Elmore’s game at the plate is spraying line drives all over the field, and he better do so quite well.
At the end of the day, though, there is enough to like with Jake Elmore that we can expect him to see time with the Tampa Bay Rays this season. While Juan Francisco and Tim Beckham are probably ahead of him in the race for the Rays’ 25th man job out of spring training, Elmore has enough talent to deserve a more extended big league chance and the Rays could give it to him if injuries or poor performances warrant it.
Elmore is decent insurance for Nick Franklin on the middle infield, something always important to have when giving an unproven young player regular playing time. More realistically, he also could help out if Beckham or Logan Forsythe struggle or if Brandon Guyer gets hurt again. Elmore’s versatility gives him a chance to fill many roles on a major league team, and while he will never be Plan A for the Rays, he can provide value for the team if using him becomes necessary.