MadFriars' Interview: Casey McElroy

SAN ANTONIO, TX: At five-foot-seven and 180 lbs., Casey McElroy was not highly recruited out of Boone High School in Orlando, Florida despite hitting .543 with 14 doubles and six home runs as a senior.

Although he was not drafted or highly recruited, McElroy went on to have a stellar career at Auburn University hitting .372/.429/.564 as a junior for the Tigers where he was a first-team All-SEC selection 2011, in what many consider one of the best college conferences in the country.

He was drafted in the eleventh round of the 2011 draft by the Padres and signed for an over-the-slot bonus and hit .301/.381/.466 in 19 games for short-season Eugene. In 2012 he got off to a slow start in Low-A Fort Wayne before being moved up to High-A Lake Elsinore where he hit .327/.402/.460. In spring training in 2013 he suffered a season ending shoulder injury diving for a ground ball that cost him his season.

This year he started off in Lake Elsinore before being moved up to AA San Antonio with the injury to second baseman Corey Spangenberg. We caught up with Casey, 25, in late April to talk about coming back after a year on the shelf.

Two years ago you were struggling in Fort Wayne and then you got called up to Lake Elsinore and hit really well. What happened? Was it just the warmer weather?

Casey McElroy: I think for me it was just a change of scenery. I was hitting a lot of balls hard but just right at guys. After awhile looking at your average on the scoreboard kind of wears on you.

So it was nice to just get a fresh start. In Lake Elsinore it was just a little bit freeing and I was able to get on a roll.

You were playing all over the place too. Second, third and even some at shortstop which you played in college.

Casey McElroy: I was just happy to be in the lineup. Being able to play all three positions is a way to stay on the field if you are hitting.

How did you get hurt last year?

Casey McElroy: I was playing in a spring training game, and it was right when I first got into a big league game, and was at second. I dove for a ball and when I came up my right shoulder was out of its socket.

I came out of the game immediately because I couldn't feel my shoulder. I thought I could pop it back in, but it didn't work out that way.

The rehab process must have been really rough.

Casey McElroy: The toughest part was knowing that I would be out a full season, especially on the mental side. You start to wonder if you are ever going to be able to throw a baseball again; especially during the early stages when you are fighting to get your mobility back.

Also you start seeing all of your friends out there playing a game that has been your whole life, and it's rough. You want nothing more than to get back on that field and all you are doing is grinding out a bunch of rehab exercises.

How long did it take you to feel comfortable diving again?

Casey McElroy: It took me awhile. Physically it's just a reaction, but every time you start to think about diving getting injured again starts to creep into your mind.

It wasn't until spring training after I dove for my first ball and got up and was ok, that I kind of got over the hump. I had done it thousands of times, but I just had to show myself that it was going to be ok again.

It is a really tough game. You sat out a year and I know you were working off of batting tees, batting machines and getting people to throw to you at home; but how long did it take you to get your timing back for games?

Casey McElroy: It took a few games in spring training to get that timing back because you don't really have the feel until you see someone live where you can recognize pitches and the different pitching speeds.

With Corey Spangenberg going down you've gotten a chance to come up here and play. How much of a jump has it been for you from A-ball to AA?

Casey McElroy: Pitchers are just more consistent and are able to throw their off-speed pitches in any count. Most of the time in A-ball if you have a 3-1 count you are getting a fastball.

Here a guy can flip a get-me-over curve, so you can't sit on the fastball. You really have to stick to your plan at this level.

Do you have to adjust your approach to what you are looking for? For example, you can't just sit on a fastball.

Casey McElroy: You do have to vary what you are looking for or they will just flip weak secondary pitches by you. The coaches always tell us look for something early in the count that you can do damage on, everything else just spit on. Try to stay disciplined and look for your pitch. After that it's time to battle.

What is your biggest goal going into the season?

Casey McElroy: Mainly to get back health wise where I was before I got injured and stay healthy. I still have my hunger for the game and want to get out there as much as I can.

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