'Surreal moment': Elko caps statue ceremony with home run

February 24th, 2024

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- went through an eventful two days leading into the weekend.

On Thursday, the 25-year-old had a statue of his likeness unveiled at the University of Mississippi, where he led the Rebels to the 2022 World Series title as the captain and first baseman. The non-roster invite to White Sox Spring Training followed up that memorable moment with a home run in his first Cactus League plate appearance against the Cubs’ Jordan Wicks on Friday at Sloan Park.

Both were awesome experiences, but for different reasons.

Let’s start with the home run, which Elko drove out to right field.

“It’s pretty cool,” Elko said prior to Saturday’s 8-7 walk-off victory over the Mariners. “I had faced him before in summer ball and college, and he’s obviously a very good pitcher.

“He had gotten me a couple of times, so it felt good to kind of get one off him. It was a surreal moment, something you dream about. It was great to get back out there and be back in live action.”

Elko’s name won’t be found on the list of Top 30 White Sox prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. But Elko can hit.

He can hit the fastball and can put a pretty good charge into pitches with spin, as he displayed in a third at-bat Friday by flying out to the wall in right-center field. Elko actually thought that the long out was hit harder than the home run, but it was held up by the wind.

Manager Pedro Grifol mentioned the first baseman/designated hitter as a bright spot from an 8-1 loss to the Cubs, showing one of the reasons he’s in camp. Grifol expounded on what he likes about Elko.

“Those balls he hit yesterday were to right field, and it’s really impressive to me,” Grifol said. “Pull-power hitters sometimes have a hard time in the big leagues. Guys that can hit the ball from line to line, those guys end up having a little bit of success. It’s very, very hard to pitch inside consistently, and if you have the ability, the strength, the approach to be able to do what he did yesterday, it’s a good recipe for the possibilities of him being a good power hitter.

“I’ve been around some guys that were pull guys that had to learn how to do it the other way. I’ve been around guys that were pull guys, power hitters, that when they get to the big leagues, they get dominated because they can’t hit the ball out the other way, they don’t focus on it. But it’s not just impressive [what Elko did Friday]. I saw it in the videos from last season. He hit a lot of homers to right field last season.”

During that ‘23 season, including stops at Single-A Kannapolis, High-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham, Elko slashed .295/.347/.527, and his 28 home runs and 106 RBIs topped all White Sox Minor Leaguers. He is expected to begin the ‘24 season as the first baseman for Triple-A Charlotte.

Baseball success began for Elko with Ole Miss from 2018-22. He finished with 46 homers, 159 RBIs and now a statue temporarily situated on the third base side of Swayze Field, according to reports from the event.

Work prevented Elko from attending, but his parents were there.

“I’ll be able to see it in the offseason,” Elko said. “Just an amazing university and I feel so special and honored for them to do that for me and for that national championship team. It’s pretty awesome.”

It’s difficult to pick between the statue and the homer for Elko’s top moment of the week. Ultimately, he hopes there are many more of those home runs to come with the White Sox.

“Every time I get up there I’m trying to drive the ball. I felt like I did my job and put a good, hard swing on a ball,” Elko said. “To be able to run around the bases, jog around the bases, is a lot more fun than sprinting around them. It felt great to be able to do that in my first at-bat in big league Spring Training.

“I’m just trying to have a little bit better pitch selection and make sure I’m not chasing as much and trusting my eyes and my swing,” added Elko, who struck out 165 times in ‘23. “Putting together good at-bats every time I get up there and trying to do damage.”