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.

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Saw this guy in Vancouver last year. Through 12 games his OBP was nearly 300 pts higher than his average. Reminded me of former Dodger 1B Cory Dunlap.
I dunno...seems that without other positive tools, pitchers would be content to throw him strikes and let him hit an empty 270. He'd probably still get enough walks to rack up a 350 OBP or something but he'd probably look like Elvis Andrus' line this year, but without the defense or steals.
Not to mention that 21 year old Elvis Andrus is leading MLB in batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position - a 'gamer' stat
Kevin, is there any chance he could learn to play catcher? His arm may not be great, but a back-up catcher can have a MLB career.
It'd be interesting to see a study of the advancement curve of players who walk a ton in the low minors but who don't display great contact or power. In the upper levels, I would have to believe that he'll start facing pitchers who can locate a lot better, including with breaking stuff. There will basically be no reason to throw him a pitch out of the zone. So I tried to dig up a few comps by looking at guys with career numbers of: AVG<.260, OBP>.350 and SLG<.380 and found a few interesting names of recent vintage: John Cangelosi, FP Santangelo, the aforementioned Lance Blankenship, Walt Weiss, Rich Becker. Though a bit older, perhaps the ideal for this type of player would be Ed "The Walking Man" Yost.
Peter Bergeron is probably the textbook case for this kind of hitter if I remember correctly. If he ends up on the aaa team of some sorry orginization like the old Expos, then he might end up on a prospect list and make a lot of out leading off for the Marlins or somesuch one year.
Sorry for jumping off topic, but is there any chance you could drop some Yu Darvish knowledge on us? I've seen a few sources report that he could be posted this year.
I know the age and other numbers are off, but this reminds me of the sort of anecdotal assessment 5'9" Dustin Pedroia received throughout his MiLB career. Granted, Pedroia has always showed much more power, but he didn't display near the BB ability Crumbliss seems to have. Sure, the biggest difference is that Pedroia had 128 PAs in his age 20 season when he his high-A and never looked back, it just struck me how similar some of those scouting quotes are to what I heard when Pedroia was making his rise, especially when he took a step backward after being promoted to AAA.
I don't think his scouting report looks anything like Dustin Pedroia's, other than the size.
Hi Kevin: I noticed his splits are pretty wacky: .328/.480/.453 at home. (~300 PAs) .220/.365/.297 away. (~315 PAs) It seems Kane County tends to play as a moderate hitters park (2006-2008 data) if I'm reading this right:
I meant to include a question/comment in there. Something along the lines of: "I suppose this won't help his chances? Though I'll still root for the dude."
although walking is not a tool, should it be though? it seems to be a consistent skill, or at any rate depends on a mixture of fairly consistent underlying attributes like approach and hardwired "feel" during an at-bat, so that instruction will only have limited effect on performance. one could argue that scouts have new things to learn as well, like the value of the walk.
I don't have access to his minor league numbers but what would keep Crumbliss from having David Eckstein's career? I understand that Eckstein "played" shortstop for several years but teams might have been better off using him at second base all along. Eckstein has played in 1300 major league games and has hit 35 home runs (16 of those were in two years) so obviously he is not a power threat. You would think that teams would just bring the outfielders in and challenge him to hit the ball but there he is, in his age 35 season and more or less an everyday player on a team challenging for a post-season spot. I understand that the Midwest League is at the low-A level but I don't think that Crumbliss should be written off until he hits the wall and stops being an effective hitter.