Josh Elander Catches On Quickly At TCU
One recent January afternoon, Texas Christian coach Jim Schlossnagle looked out at the baseball field to see junior catcher Josh Elander working out. For 30 minutes, Elander practiced blocking balls in the dirt before working on pop-ups for another 15 minutes.
While it was supposed to be a day off for Elander, Schlossnagle wasn't surprised to see the All-American hard at work. From the time Elander arrived in Fort Worth, Texas, as a freshman, Schlossnagle said he has had the work ethic necessary to become great.
"Every great player I've ever been around, they're all the same guy: Their work ethic matches or exceeds their ability level," Schlossnagle said. "Josh has that."
And now, after spending the summer as Team USA's primary catcher and hitting .333/.426/.509 at TCU last spring, Elander's hard work is paying off. He is in position, with a solid spring, to be a first-round pick in the draft this June.
Elander is determined to outwork his competition, focusing on his defense as the season approaches.
"It's easy for college kids to say 'I'm tired today, I don't feel like working on it,'" Elander said. "I take pride in working at it every day."
Elander's attitude fits perfectly into the blue-collar attitude Schlossnagle preaches to his team. Elander said the Horned Frogs embrace the "dirtbag" tradition established by former players like Matt Carpenter and Bryan Holaday.
For Elander, Holaday was especially important to his development. Holaday was a senior in 2009, when Elander was a freshman. Though Holaday's presence meant Elander had to spend a year playing in right field (where Schlossnagle says he is "a tick above-average"), it also meant he could learn from an experienced college catcher some of the nuances of the position during TCU's run to the College World Series.
"I learned an incredible amount about catching," Elander said. "I learned how to take control of the pace of the game and continue to be passionate about every aspect of the game."
His Time To Shine
Now, it is Elander who is helping to lead TCU, which is especially important this year because of the large number of new players in the program. Schlossnagle said Elander isn't afraid to pull a player aside and knows how to get on the Horned Frogs when they make mistakes in practice.
With so many young players, some of whom are very high profile—like catcher Kevin Cron, a third-round pick a year ago—Schlossnagle believes it is very important for them to have someone like Elander to look up to.
"It's hard for a young player to develop without an older peer he respects to bounce questions off and hold him accountable," Schlossnagle said. "I've used (Elander) as an example plenty of times in front of the guys, but I don't need to call him out. They see it.
"He's a great example to learn from."
Elander is coming into this season more confident than last year, both because of his experience at TCU as a sophomore and his experience with Team USA. Elander led the team with a .327 batting average and handled a staff that included potential top-10 picks Mark Appel, Brian Johnson and Michael Wacha.
Elander said he also benefitted from the instruction of Kent State coach Scott Stricklin, an assistant with the national team.
"He's an absolute guru when it comes to catching," Elander said. "It was like a clinic for me every single day with a great D-I head coach."
Elander's performance helped make up for the absence of fellow catcher Mike Zunino, who pulled out of the team after helping Florida reach the College World Series Finals. Team USA general manager Eric Campbell said Elander caught at least 80 percent of the national team's 14 games.
"Josh Elander really made a name for himself," Campbell said last summer. "Playing with Bryan Holaday obviously rubbed off. The leadership skills were off the chart and the skills were good too."
Bull In A China Shop
Coming out of high school in 2009, Elander was drafted in the 37th round by the Nationals. He went as far as to go to Washington for a workout, but ultimately didn't sign. At the time, scouts had questions about his ability to remain behind the plate, but Elander's work on defense has changed that perception.
Elander's offense has always been a strength, but the power potential he showed in high school has yet to appear in games. He has just seven career home runs at TCU, including five a year ago. Elander said improving his power numbers is one of his focuses this spring.
Schlossnagle said Elander's raw power is still there, he just hasn't been able to tap into it yet. Still, Schlossnagle believes it will come.
"He's a bull in the china shop type of guy," Schlossnagle said. "He doesn't have the most fluid, easy swing. It's got some max effort to it. He will forever rely on his strength and athleticism."
On and off the field, Schlossnagle said he has seen a change in Elander since his return to campus this fall. He has reached the point every great college baseball player reaches in their junior year, where they can see what it will take to achieve their goals before the end of their careers.
"He's smelling it right now," Schlossnagle said. "He's just driven every day. In the weight room, in the classroom, on the field, he doesn't waste a day."