C.J. McElroy was taken by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft. Billed as a projectable, highly athletic center fielder, C.J. was a two-sport star in both baseball and football coming out of high school. The speedy outfielder was taken one round later than Charlie Tilson, another highly athletic center fielder, while the Cardinals try to add depth and talent to an area that has been lacking since Colby Rasmus graduated to the major leagues.
Reports have come out recently that McElroy has decided to forego his commitment to Houston to try to work out a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. All indications are that he will be signed before the August 15th deadline and will join Zack Cox, Kolten Wong, Matt Adams, and Oscar Taveras as a resurgence in the amount of depth that the Cardinals have added in impactful position players.
Chad Abernathy, who coached C.J. in both baseball and football at Clear Creek High School, has been kind enough to answer some questions about him.
What coaching position did you have while C.J. was in high school?
Chad Abernathy: I was the varsity hitting coach for one year and head JV coach and also worked with outfielders. I also coached CJ as a freshman in football.
As a two-sport star who has excelled enough to be offered a scholarship from Houston to play both baseball and football, what does C.J. offer as a baseball player?
Chad Abernathy: CJ is a dynamic, high energy player that brings a “football” mentality to the baseball field. He goes hard all the time. His game is predicated on speed, but that is enhanced with his hustle and his ”never takes a pitch off” approach to the game.
How has football been beneficial to him as he moves forward with a career in baseball?
Chad Abernathy: Two reasons: He was an outstanding and very confident football player and you could see the confidence carry over to the baseball field. Moreover, you could see a certain aggressiveness in CJ’s game that was a direct result of his football career.
Son of Chuck McElroy and nephew of Cecil Cooper, C.J. has plenty of baseball in his bloodlines. Although Cooper was a first basemen and Chuck was a pitcher, is there anything in C.J. that reminds you of either player?
Well, I think more than anything it’s just the fact that baseball is in his blood. He is a very different player than Cecil or Chuck was, but without question you can see the influence of being around major leaguers his entire life.
At what point during his high school career did you realize that he had a real future in baseball?
Chad Abernathy: Very early. CJ is an exceptional athlete. He made some plays early on in the field that college kids can’t make. Several scouts mentioned that he was pro ready as an outfielder as a junior in high school. As he progressed at the plate, you knew he had a chance to go high in the draft.
What is C.J.’s best asset and what does he need to work on the most?
Chad Abernathy: His best asset undoubtedly is his speed. Both defensively and offensively. He is a game changer and exerts pressure on teams constantly with his speed. He needs to refine his hitting approach and understand how pitchers are trying to work him but he has improved immensely in that area. Now that he can concentrate solely on baseball, I think you will see him start to really improve. The sky is the limit with CJ.
What was the result in the big jump in his numbers from his junior to senior season?
Chad Abernathy: I think confidence. He was so close to breaking out his junior season and I think his success on the football field carried over. In addition, the young man is a tireless worker and he put the time in necessary to make the jump to an elite level.
C.J. hit 5 home runs and stole a record 33 bases for Clear Creek in his senior season. He obviously has the speed, but how much power do you think he’ll project further into his baseball career?
Chad Abernathy: CJ has tremendous bat speed. He has very loose quick wrists and very strong core that enables him generate a lot of bat head whip. I think he could be a 10-20 HR guy but he is so dangerous on the bases that he may need to cut down a little on his swing.
As a self-proclaimed Cardinals fan, is there any player, past or present, who you’d compare to C.J.?
Chad Abernathy: I would have to say he reminds me a lot of Brian Jordan. Hard nosed, aggressive, great athlete and goes all out every pitch. He will probably be more of a SB and less of a HR guy than BJ was but their style of play is very similar. I could see CJ down the road being a 50-60 SB, 10-15 HR guy and being an exciting leadoff man for the Redbirds.
Are there any final thoughts you’d like to add about C.J.?
Chad Abernathy: The Cardinals are getting an exceptional player and an even better young man. CJ will represent the Redbird Nation with class! Looking forward to seeing him in Busch Stadium really soon!
Thanks again to Chad for taking the time out to answer some questions about our future redbird, C.J. McElroy. We’re all excited to see him make his professional debut.