Into the Swing of Things

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Jake Elmore is fitting in just fine with the wacky Oakland clubhouse, but it's his swing that's made the biggest difference.

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Inside the Oakland Atheltics locker room at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, Jake Elmore is a mere afterthought. His locker? All the way in the back, tucked in a corner, with three empty lockers serving as supply closets next to him. His permanent five o'clock shadow? Doesn't even crack the top 20 facial hair styles around him.

He's spent a little over a week with the A's since his trade from the White Sox, but so far, he's fitting in just fine.

"As far as this group of guys goes, it's the most close-knit, laid back group of guys you could be around, and I've played against a lot of them and I've actually played with a few of them," Elmore says. "They took me in from Day One, and it was a quick adjustment, and it was relatively smooth and painless."

So far, the Oakland locker room is just as Elmore imagined it after years of hearing about the somewhat unique culture.

"It is, it is. You can tell from the guys' beards, to the hair, everything's laid back and kind of free-spirited," says Elmore. "You come in and you're not hounded by guys to do stuff. You do things the right way, you get the job done, and nobody's going to say anything."

While the trade of Elmore for cash considerations, and the resultant designation of for assignment was seen by some as like-for-like, Elmore's defensive versatility and OPS ceiling are big plusses over Parrino.

"We've seen a versatile guy," says manager Bob Melvin, who has played Elmore in seven games at shortstop. "The first day, he made some good defensive plays, and some good base running decisions, and in camp, versatility – a versatile player who's played all the position – it's early on, but that's what I've seen to this point."

Offensively, it's taken Elmore a while to get to where he is now, and a few different swings, in his last two springs with two other teams.

"One of the biggest things is, there was a physical adjustment, which was drastic," Elmore says. "I used to be a big front-foot hitter, and for some of the people who don't know what that means, I would actually lunge out towards the ball."

That left him very vulnerable, as his numbers show. From 2009 to 2011, Elmore saw his slugging percentage never get higher than .351, after posting a .464 mark with Missoula in the Pioneer Rookie League in 2008. His OPS slipped too, dropping from a high of .853 in his first partial pro season to a career-low .711 in 2011.

Anything off speed was Elmore's kryptonite.

"Yeah, off speed, and inside pitches, because when you fall forward, you lose the inner half, because you're losing ground towards the pitcher," Elmore says.

That's when his hitting coach at Double-A Mobile -- Alan Zinter -- took him aside.

"He's actually the hitting coordinator with the Indians, now, and he was a young guy, and he actually, midseason, he sat me down with video of Ian Kinsler," says Elmore. "Ian Kinsler loads really early, and he strides, then he's done. He changed me. I was open and diving. He dropped my hands, stride early, hands low and loose. When the pitch comes, I stride, and keep my hands back at the same time."

"About a month left in the season, I was hitting, in Double-A, I think, right at .300, and he changed me. I went down from .300 to .278, but I changed mid-season, and I actually changed my stance in the games and everything. He said, ‘I know your average might go down, but, bottom line, if you hit for no power, you won't be able to progress,' so he changed it over a little bit, and the next year, I held true to that approach, and I was hitting .380 at the all-star break. It really helped me recognize pitches better, it opened up the inner half for me, and it was hard to fool me."

In 2012, Elmore's average jumped from .270 to .344 in Triple-A Reno. Granted, those numbers came in the offensively-minded Pacific Coast League, but looking at his OPS, the jump was more of a vault: He went from a career-low .711 to a career-high .908, prompting a call up to the Major Leagues.

"The whole 2011 offseason, that's all I did was work on what he told me, and he made a good point: A lot of people were hounding him, because, ‘He's hitting .300, so why do you change him?' but I'm all singles, because if I'm diving, all I'm doing is flaring it over the infield, so I really started driving the ball more," Elmore says. "It took a while, and my average dipped towards the end of the season, but I took what he said to heart, and he said, ‘If you really want to do it in the big leagues, you're going to have to hit with a little more power.'"

Once Elmore got moved up, though, there was a whole new set of adjustments he had to make with the Diamondbacks, and in 30 games, he hit just .191.

"I think just getting to the big leagues, in general, there's a learning curve, and some people don't experience that learning curve, and I tip my hat to them," Elmore says. "You have to get over all the mental stuff, you have to overlook the fact that you're playing in huge stadiums with 50,000 people, and no matter how good your physical attributes are, sometimes, you just have to get used to the big leagues, and I only had about 70 at-bats to do so with the Diamondbacks. I didn't put too much stock in .190, but I had a little bit bigger sampling with 130 last year, and did a little bit better, but I'm looking for more improvements this year."

In 2013, Elmore hit .242, but had an OPS of .638 in 52 games, and in 70 games Triple-A Oklahoma City, his slash line was .299/.382/.433, with an OPS of .815. Those numbers are why the A's acquired him, and that's why he has a spot in camp.

"I don't think a role has been defined, yet. That's OK, though, because sometimes, roles develop as spring training goes on, and as the season goes on," says Elmore. "Sometimes, they can't tell you, ‘Hey, we want you to do this and this.' Depending on how I'm swinging it, and depending on how other people are playing, the role could change. I'm just looking to step in, whenever that is, whatever role that is, whatever position that is, and go from there."

Ryan Gorcey publishes and for, and covers Major League Baseball.

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