MadFriars' Interview: Casey McElroy

EL PASO - Many times when talking about minor league players we lose track of just how good these guys really are, regardless of what they are doing at a particular time.

Casey McElroy, 25, was drafted by the Padres in the eleventh round of the 2011 draft after a stellar career at Auburn.

How stellar?

McElroy was a first-team All-SEC selection at shortstop in his junior year. He hit .372/.429/.564 and led the SEC in RBI and hits. In his three seasons with the War Eagles he held a career batting average of .330/.404/.516 and those numbers pale to what he did in high school where he hit .543 as a senior and was a 6A first team All-State player in Florida.

Think about that the next time your friend, who just finished bragging about a double he hit in his adult recreation league, tells you someone “sucks”.

The ironic thing about Casey’s accomplishments, is probably everyone that he is playing with or against now has done something similar.

Since being drafted McElroy has put up some good numbers and also struggled while learning how to play all over the infield. At five-foot-eight and a solid 180 pounds, he is emphatically not a “slap hitter” with a .452 slugging percentage this season in Triple-A El Paso after toggling back and forth between the Chihuahuas and Double-A San Antonio.

We caught up with Casey before a recent game to check on his progress.

Whenever any of us think of moving it always seems like such a multiple day task. You guys get called up in the middle of road trips and you have to move your life to a new city in a day. How do you do it?

Casey McElroy: That was a big learning curve when I first got into professional baseball. When you are packing for the season you have to learn to pack lightly and efficiently.

In Double-A I always packed in case I got called up so I was ready. Back home you have to also have everything set to be shipped out just in case.

Your whole career you were a shortstop, through Little League, high school and college. You get to the professional ranks and suddenly you are asked to also play second and third base. How did you adjust?

Casey McElroy: It is definitely a learning curve especially at third. Second base is fairly similar to shortstop in terms of positioning but third is all about positioning.

You need to know which guys can bunt, when to play back. If you have a big lefty up that is mainly a pull guy you are more in the hole, other times it is a no doubles defense and you are close to the line.

That was the biggest thing for me. All of the coaches have always helped me quite a bit.

There a big difference in the parks between Nelson Wolff Stadium in San Antonio and Southwest University Park here; but the pitchers seem to be different too. Most guys say the fastballs may not be as big but the secondary stuff is much better. Do you find that true too?

Casey McElroy: In Double-A you have a lot of prospects where you might see better velocity, but in Triple-A you have more pitchers who know how to nibble around the plate. You end up getting yourself out more times than they do.

You have to be more disciplined in your approach to have a chance.

Do you ever change what your looking for with these types of pitchers? For example most guys want something middle-in so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the pitcher might try to throw a breaking pitch to the outside.

Casey McElroy: The approach is the same in that you want to look fastball early in the count but you also have to be aware of the situation in the game. You need to know what the pitcher can and can’t throw for a strike.

If you see that he hasn’t been able to get his slider over consistently then you can take that out of the equation and just look fastball and change-up. And if he can’t throw a change, then you sit fastball.

But at this level, with the pitcher’s ability to command pitches better and improved secondary stuff, the approach you take at the plate becomes much more important - along with not missing your pitch in the at-bat.

Half of the guys I have spoken too look more at zones as opposed to looking at specific pitches. Is that something you do or can you recognize pitches out of the pitcher’s hand?

Casey McElroy: It all just depends. Early on I was struggling in Triple-A and Jason Lane told me that instead of looking for a specific pitch look for the ball in a certain place and trust your hands.

How does this park compare to hitting in San Antonio?

Casey McElroy: The wind is a big factor in San Antonio. The outfielders can play back so a hard line drive is going to have a better chance of being caught and bloopers are going to hang up in the air a little longer. The infield plays a little quicker here, so more balls go through.

And the ball travels much better without the wind.

What has been your biggest improvement since you have become a professional?

Casey McElroy: Staying within myself and a better understanding of the game. They say there is a big jump between High-A and Double-A and the game kind of speeds up.

Being around Rich Dauer [his manager at San Antonio last season] and Jamie Quirk [his manager this year at San Antonio and El Paso] have really helped me because they are big advocates of only doing what you are capable of doing. If there is a double-play situation and have a fast runner, make sure you get the lead runner.

At the plate everyone wants to be the hero and hit that big three-run home run but they are big on hitting the pitches that you are given.

You have to do what you can to help your team win, that is how you become a valuable player.

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