PEORIA – Former Arizona State second baseman Jake Elmore thought he would be a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks forever after the organization drafted him in the 34th round of the 2008 MLB draft.
However, forever wasn’t forever.
Elmore finished his 13-year career in August of 2021 with the Philadelphia Phillies – his 12th and final team as a longtime journeyman – and played in the majors for six teams from 2012 to 2019.
Now he has returned to where it all began, next door to Phoenix, this time as the hitting coach of the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League.
“It was really cool simply because playing at Arizona State and the local team that you feel the closest to is the Diamondbacks,” Elmore said. “And so when they took me, it was special in that regard because the dream was obviously to get into the big leagues and then in doing so, I got to play near where I went to college, which was certainly special.”
Elmore grew up a Braves fan but had aspirations to play professionally for any team willing to take a shot on him. He began his college baseball career at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Alabama before transferring to Arizona State as a junior in 2008. Elmore had previously been drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 48th round of the 2007 MLB draft, but opted to attend Arizona State to play at a more competitive level.
After a full season in a Sun Devil uniform, he signed with the Diamondbacks with the belief it was his second selection was his last one. Elmore spent the next four years in the Diamondbacks farm system, playing primarily as an infielder, but dabbling with pitching and catching. He was an August call-up and made his MLB debut against the Washington Nationals on Aug. 11, 2012.
While the excitement remained, reality quickly hit when Elmore fell short of the Diamondbacks’ expectations. He produced only seven RBI, four doubles and 13 hits in 73 plate appearances. Before the 2013 season, the Houston Astros claimed Elmore off waivers.
“You know, you get settled in a place, you get settled with your teammates and then all of a sudden you get a call that you’ve been traded or claimed off waivers or whatever the case may be,” Elmore said. “It definitely takes some adjusting, but it’s also exciting in the same regard, knowing that another team is coming after you in some sense. So, positives and negatives, I would say, but certainly an adjustment period, no doubt.”
Elmore’s prior pitching experience came in handy in August of 2013, when he became the 14th player in major league history to pitch and catch in the same game against the Texas Rangers.
“We had a catcher on the starting lineup and also a DH who is also a catcher,” said Elmore, who one month later became the first player in franchise history to play all nine positions in a season. “The starting catcher got a concussion. (And) I was the emergency catcher, so instead of having to kill the designated hitter and make a pitcher hit, they just let me get back there and catch four innings. Coincidentally, we were losing by a lot, late in the game. So they said, ‘Hey, you’re pitching the eighth inning.’ So I was like, ‘Well, alright, let’s do this.’”
Elmore had a short tenure in Houston and was claimed off waivers by the Chicago White Sox, his third team in two years, but never reached the majors. In 2014, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics and optioned to Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, never making a start before being claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Reds later that season.
In Cincinnati, Elmore met Saguaro’s assistant hitting coach Ruben Gotay. Although they were teammates for only one season at Triple-A Louisville in 2014, Gotay believed that Elmore helped him on and off the field.
“We got along pretty good, (it) was for a brief moment, but we helped each other. You know, on and off the field, defensive-wise, offensive-wise, so that you can go and listen to and talk about baseball,” Gotay said.
While Gotay’s career ended that same year, Elmore continued to move to different teams and signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in early 2021. By that point, Elmore knew his playing days were coming to an end after blowing out his hamstring.
“I was trying to come back from it, and it was almost that point anyways where it was retirement talk, retirement thinking, retirement mindset,” Elmore said. “And then the injury just kind of expedited those thoughts, I would say. It was tough to come back from. And then when I was let go by Philly, it just made my decision for me. I immediately shifted my focus to the coaching side.”
Elmore visited Philadelphia shortly after he was released and met with former teammate Sam Fuld, current general manager of the Phillies. Fuld soon brought him on as the hitting coach of the Clearwater Threshers, Low-A affiliate of the Phillies.
Gotay believes he and Elmore share similar skill sets from their playing days that have translated well to the Fall League prospects.
“Never forget what you did as a player, what you can do to help the boys right now,” Gotay said. “That’s something that as long as we keep it in our minds and he keeps doing it, it’s gonna be a good career for him.”
Now with the Fall League, Elmore aspires to keep players in a positive mindset.
After all, he knows firsthand about the toll the game of baseball can take, especially for minor league players praying, playing and hoping to get their shot at the major league level.
“It’s easier said than done. Cause you stress about getting a hit every single night or playing well. Eyes are on you and there’s people coming for your job,” Elmore said. “This game takes its toll on your mindset. It’s a long season. It’s a lot of games with that pressure and it takes its toll. So I’d like to think (I know) how I assist guys on the mental side as well as the physical side and progress ’em that way.”