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September 21, 2010

Future Shock

Fun To Watch

by Kevin Goldstein

On Sunday night I went to see the White Sox play the Tigers, as I was honored to be invited to speak to a University of Chicago alumni group before the game. Believe it or not, it was only my third major-league game of the year. That's just not my beat. I've lost count of how many “below the big league” games I've been to, and just due to geography, the team I've seen the most of is the Kane County Cougars. You couldn't find a scout who has seen that team half as many times as I have, and yet, one player still has me baffled. A 28th-round pick last year out of Emporia State, a small D-II school in Kansas that has never produced a big-leaguer, Conner Crumbliss is a 5-foot-8 23-year-old who played Low-A and shouldn't even technically be on anybody's radar, but in the end, he's at least interesting. Let's go to the tale of the tape.

LEVEL   G    AB  R    H   2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB  SO  SB  CS  AVG  OBP  SLG  
Low-A  134  491  95  133  30   2   5   56  126  92  24   8 .271 .421 .371

As you can see, dude knows how to walk, to say the least. He never swings at bad pitches, and one could even argue that he should have walked closer to 140 times this year, as I saw him rung up on several occasions simply because he knew the strike zone better than Midwest League umpires. As we all know, walking is not a tool, so let's get down to the scouting part of his game briefly.

Hit: Crumbliss is not an especially good hitter when he actually takes the bat off his shoulder. The pure bat speed is a bit slow, and his sense for contact is well below what one would normally expect for a player of this type. Basically, it's hard to see him ever building on this year's average.

Power: To his credit, Crumbliss does swing hard, generating a surprising amount of pop out of his 5-foot-8 frame, leading to plenty of doubles driven into the gaps. That he hit five home runs is almost shocking for a player his size, but like his batting average, there's little to no room for growth.

Run: Crumbliss is an average (50) runner, and the tool plays up a bit due to his instincts. He has the ability to steal some bases at the right opportunity, as well as take the extra base on hits.

Field: While anything but spectacular, Crumbliss is more than solid at second base. His range and instincts are average, but his fundamentals are outstanding, as he made just nine errors on the season and turns the double play well.

Arm: Not a big deal for the position. Nothing impressive, but certainly adequate for a second baseman.

Now, that's an organizational player at best, but at the same time, there are all of those walks. Enough to lead the minor leagues by 24. Enough to finish third in the Midwest League in on-base percentage despite hitting nearly 100 points behind the batting leader. It's a staggering number, and there's real value here, but can he keep it up?

Talking to industry professionals about Crumbliss could fill a notebook with quotes that fit into the category of damning with faint praise:

“It's impossible to just write him off.”

“He's exactly the kind of guy who proves us wrong and gets [to the majors].”

“He'll help a lot of teams win games all the way up.”

It is impossible to just write him off, and again, that's almost solely because of the walks and 80 makeup, as the guy is one of those baseball rats that runs every ball out, has a dirty uniform by the fifth inning and just plays with that joie de vivre that makes him a role model for younger players. Is he a prospect? No, not much of one, and all the Athletics can really do at this point is move him up and see if he keeps doing it. If he does, they'll move him up again, and so on.

Whether he's the next Jackie Rexrode or something much more remains to be seen. Even in a perfect world it's impossible to see him as anything more than the next Lance Blankenship. Still, that was a fun player to watch, and maybe that's why I'm so fascinated with Crumbliss. He's not going to sniff anyone's prospect list this offseason, but during the spring and summer of 2010, he sure was fun to watch.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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