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After seeing what Marwin Gonzalez could provide at short, we look at Jake Elmore and ask the same question: could he fill in full-time for Jed Lowrie?
Editor's note: this was supposed to post Tuesday morning, but I'm bumping it up to now because Jed Lowrie just got traded. I'm not updating the content for references to Lowrie, but discuss whether Elmore makes a good starter at the newly vacant shortstop position.
Last week, we pondered how Marwin Gonzalez would fit if something unforseen happened to Jed Lowrie. Whether it's a trade or another injury, who would take Lowrie's place or at-bats? Would one guy be able to step in for half a season or a month here or there?
Well, out of the great discussion on the Marwin piece, I decided to spin this off into two more parts. This time, we're going to look at Jake Elmore, who many of you pointed out could make a better fit at short than Marwin in the short-term. Next week, we'll do the same for Tyler Greene.
In case you're not familiar with Elmore, he's a 25-year old middle infielder who was picked up off waivers in November of last year. Elmore played in 30 games with the Diamondbacks after spending five seasons in the minors. He was drafted out of Arizona State in 2008 in the 34th round and was a teammate of Brett Wallace, Ike Davis, Jason Kipnis and Mike Leake that year.
Though scouting reports on him are spotty, Elmore made solid progression through the D'Backs system and was mentioned by Jeff Luhnow as a potential breakout candidate next season. Let's run through his skill set to see how he might fit into that hypothetically open shortstop role.
This is where Elmore shines. He doesn't have great tools, doesn't have a lot of power, but does two things that will win over the hearts of many saber-heads. He walks at a ridiculously high rate and doesn't strike out.
Elmore has posted a walk rate of 13 percent in five minor league seasons over 2,104 plate appearances. He's also struck out just 12.6 percent of the time over that stretch. The lowest his walk rate has ever been was 11.8 percent in 2011 at Double-A and the highest it's ever been was 14.5 percent last season at Triple-A Reno.
He also made a push for the minor league batting title last summer, hitting .344 with a .442 on-base percentage and a .465 slugging percentage. His weighted on-base average (wOBA) was .408 last season and has never been lower than .332 in five years.
Elmore hasn't ever hit for much power, but did manage 40 extra-base hits last season. Of course, he played in a great hitting environment at Reno, but his track record in the minors holds up that his bat is solid, if not spectacular.
Elmore also possesses a little speed. He's not fast, but he does have the smarts to steal 32 bases last season on 80 percent effectiveness. That was a big leap from his career, though, as he had never posted a stolen base percentage over 65 percent before last season.
Elmore struggled in 73 plate appearances last season for the Diamondbacks, but that could have been due to his rookie status. The 25-year old saw 60 percent fastballs and 61.6 percent first-pitch strikes, so he got challenged quite a bit by the veteran pitchers. To his credit, Elmore responded well, with just 3.4 percent swinging strikes and 22.6 percent of his swings coming on pitches outside the zone.
Best case scenario? He ends up as a Jose Altuve clone at short, but with a better walk rate.
Here's where Elmore might struggle in a full-time role. In just 129 innings last season at shortstop, Elmore accumulated -3 Defensive Runs Saved, with one of those in double play balls and the other two on plays made. UZR didn't hate him as much, clocking in at -1.8, but that's also in a scant number of innings.
The limited scouting reports on Elmore indicate he has a below-average arm and might struggle with his range. So, defensively, he's Matt Downs. Sort of.
It's still a small sample size, and Jed Lowrie also had a bad defensive rap coming into last season, but performed well. Maybe Elmore will do the same, but we have to think right now that his defense will hurt the Astros if he plays too much at short.
This is another area where Elmore excels. He topped 450 plate appearances every season since being drafted out of Arizona State in 2008. Last season, he got 584 plate appearances and played in 138 games between Triple-A and the majors.
He hasn't had any significant injuries or chronic conditions that I can find, which means he should be a relative low injury risk next season. Plus, he's used to extended playing time, so could fit into a starting role relatively easily.
While Elmore couldn't be expected to provide the same defensive abilities as Marwin Gonzalez, his bat would be a help to the lineup, if for nothing else than his on-base skill. That walk rate gives Elmore an elite skill, and I'm not sure Marwin has one elite skill at all; he's just got a bunch of average to above-average ones.
When looking at replacements for Lowrie in the event of an injury or trade, Elmore would be a great fit in the short term, as his offensive and defensive shortcomings may not become problems until he's played quite a bit.
Right now, I'd lean towards having Elmore fill in for Lowrie and keep Marwin on the bench, but his defense worries me. He'd probably still be just a stop-gap until Jonathan Villar is ready to go. I'd also have to think that Elmore has a bit of an edge on Marwin for a spot on the Astros bench next year.