American League Outfield Player Watch: Jake Elmore

Two things stand out while highlighting Jake Elmore as the American League outfielder this week. First, it should be noted that Elmore does not yet have outfield eligibility. That is in the works, as Elmore started in left field two days ago — and has four other appearances there — and the Houston Astros plan on keeping him in left field. He does already have shortstop eligibility in Yahoo! (just second base in CBS and ESPN) and given the difference in quantity as well as quality of middle infielders vs. outfielders, it would be wise to play Elmore as your MI even when he does gain OF eligibility.

The second point worth noting, which is something that the reader has almost certainly noticed by now, is that Elmore plays for the Astros. Following up on that, the Astros are not a good offensive baseball team. In fact, one could justifiably call them a bad offensive team. The Astros rank in the bottom five in terms of wOBA, wRC+, runs scored, batting average, and on-base percentage. Sorry to disappoint, but Elmore isn’t a power hitter that will boost the Astros offensive output across the board. He has only eclipsed the .100 ISO mark in Rookie Ball and in the Pacific Coast League. Expecting a ton of home runs or RBIs from Elmore will surely leave you disappointed.

What Elmore can do for you is give you a solid OBP and provide some steals along the way. Throughout his minor league career Elmore never posted an OBP lower than .362, back in Double-A in 2011. He had more walks than strikeouts in 2009 (A-Ball), 2010 (Double-A), and last year (Triple-A). He has never played a season without a posting double digit walk rate. Prior to his call up, Elmore had 31 walks vs 37 strikeouts in Triple-A and had 16 steals while hitting a cool .299/.382/.433. The PCL inflates hitting, no doubt, and Elmore doesn’t profile as a .300 hitter in the big leagues but fellow OBP leaguers can certainly make use of his walks.

Elmore’s speed doesn’t grade out well, but he has a history of running. He had 16 bags in Triple-A this season though he is yet to successfully steal his first big league base (currently o-for-3). Last year he grabbed 32 bases against eight times CS, though historically what speed he has hasn’t been efficient. Tracing back to his Rookie Ball days, Elmore has run often, but has also been caught often. He has seasons of 9 SB vs. 8 CS, 13 SB vs. 7 CS, 25 SB vs. 13 CS, and 15 SB vs. 11 CS.

There is good news in that the Astros haven’t been shy about running, their 57 steals are middle of the pack. The bad news is that they maybe too bold in the running game, as they lead the league with 32 CS. To put that into context, the Milwaukee Brewers are second in the league with 30 CS, however the Brew Crew have 85 steals. If the Astros continue to send base runners regardless of consequence, Elmore will fit right in. Given that CS don’t matter in a strict counting sense in fantasy — granted if someone goes 0-15 perhaps their real life manager will stop giving them the green light — Elmore’s poor rates shouldn’t scare anyone off.

The best way of thinking about Elmore is to consider him Brett Gardner Lite. Both play for poor offensive ball clubs — the New York Yankees have a collective .298 wOBA vs Houston’s .294 — and both are guys who’s primary fantasy skills are OBP and steals. Assuming Elmore sticks in the majors, he could have double digit steals while posting a .345 OBP, similar to what Gardner projects. Gardner exclusively hits leadoff whereas Elmore has shifted around the lineup, however Elmore has received eight starts batting leadoff. For now, Elmore is available in virtually every league from Yahoo!, ESPN, and CBS. If anyone in AL-only or deep mixed leagues needs middle infield/outfield help in the OBP and steals categories, that is Elmore’s niche.

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My league uses net stolen bases, and players like Elmore make me glad that it does.