PHOENIX – Brett Butler spent the great majority of his lengthy major league as a leadoff hitter, so he knows a little bit about the top of a batting order.
Consider, then, his assessment of his Jake Elmore.
“He’s the best two-hole hitter I’ve ever had. Ever,” Butler said when the Aces stopped in Tucson two weeks ago.
Butler, who manages Elmore at Class AAA Reno, did not stop there.
“He’s David Eckstein all over again,” Butler said.
Eckstein had a 10-year major league career that included the 2006 World Series MVP as a 19th round draft pick out of Florida.
Marco Scutaro also is a name that pops up when scouts talk about Elmore, who has gone from a 34th-round draft pick out of Arizona State in 2008 to the leading hitter in the Pacific Coast League in his fifth season in the organization.
Elmore was hitting .395/.472/.539 entering the second half of the PCL season Wednesday, and he was all over the leader board – second in the league in doubles (20), leading in triples (six), second in stolen bases (23), third in RBI (50) and first in walks (39).
He took a 27-game hitting streak into Wednesday night’s game, and he had reached base safely via hit or walk in 41 straight. Both are franchise records, and second in the minors this season to Texas prospect Jurickson Profar.
As good as Elmore’s numbers are, they are just part of the reason Butler is not the only one who has grown to admire Elmore’s spunk.
“He’s a feisty little (bleep) that plays hard,” one veteran baseball man said in admiration.
“You have to love those guys,” Butler said.
Elmore, 25, is not big, at 5-foot-9 and 183 pounds. He knows his limitations. He is not a home run hitter and does not try to be, with one this year and 12 in his four minor league seasons.
Call him a dirtbag and he will not take offense.
“Do whatever it takes to get on base and set the table for the big guys,” Elmore said of his approach.
It is working. Reno leadoff man Adam Eaton, second to his teammate in batting average at .390, and Elmore have worked so well together that they have signs among themselves – give a pitch or two to steal second base, let’s work a hit-and-run. Butler has seen times when Elmore intentionally fouled a ball off after Eaton got a bad jump off first base on a stolen base attempt.
It is all part of the Elmore package.
“They’ll try to bust him inside and he’ll turn on one,” Butler said, and pull a ball to left field. “The third baseman plays back, he’ll lay one down.”
Elmore has played three infield positions and left field for Butler, taking a turn in left when Stephen Drew made his rehab debut at Reno on June 7. Elmore told the D-backs he could catch this spring, so he spent a majority of early spring training behind the plate.
His versatility makes him even more valuable, and once in the lineup, he does not want out. Elmore jammed his right pinkie finger on a play at second base last month, but rather than take a day off, he had the trainer tape his pinkie and right ring finger together and played that way for about a month and a half.
Elmore was a star at Wallace (Ala.) State Community College before accepting a scholarship to ASU in 2007, but he got off to a slow start and did not play much. D-backs scout Rodney Davis, familiar with the program, signed Elmore, understanding that season was not a true indicator.
“Absolutely, it was discouraging,” Elmore said of his year at ASU. “It taught me a little mental toughness, how to work through some things. I’m thankful for the situation now that it’s over. I felt like I was better than where I got drafted, but based on how I played … I felt fortunate to get drafted after that year, and I was definitely ready to take that opportunity.
Elmore spent his first season at Missoula and his second at South Bend before repeating at Mobile, where he was the starting second baseman on the 2011 Southern League championship team.
“He’s a guy you’d want (batting) with two outs and a guy on second base,” said D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, a South Bend teammate . “A guy who always gets the job done. Some web gems at second. A great team player.”
Reno has 44 victories and a nine-game lead in the PCL Pacific Northern Division, the numbers that Elmore likes to point to.
“When the team is having success, it is a lot easier to have individual success,” he said. “We have people on base. It is a lot easier to hit. Now that we’re starting to click as a team, it’s a lot more fun.”