Midland outfielder Conner Crumbliss has always been comfortable as the leadoff man. He has played that role his entire life. Batting in the No. 1 spot means getting on base anyway possible, whether it be via walks or hits. The team might be different this season, but Crumbliss has continued his role as the table-setter in the line-up.
"I've been batting in the leadoff spot forever," he said. "My only goal is to get to first base using any way possible. I just do whatever I can to help the team and score runs."
The Arkansas City, Kan. native is playing in his first year with the Midland Rockhounds. He has enjoyed the club but said Double-A is definitely tougher to compete in than the lower levels.
"Double-A has been a challenge," Crumbliss said. "It's tougher than High-A and Low-A. Obviously the pitching got a lot better and more consistent. The biggest difference has been the pitchers' consistency with their breaking pitches and changeups. In High-A and Low-A if they get behind in the count they'll just throw you fastballs, now they throw anything to get you out. It makes it harder to be ready for every pitch because you never know what's coming. Midland, the town and the fans have all been great though. I've enjoyed it."
Crumbliss currently has the lowest batting average of his short minor league career (.260, but he is still getting on base at an above-average clip and scoring lots of runs. The outfielder leads the Texas League in runs scored (68) and walks (85) and is fourth in on-base percentage (.401). With five homeruns and 20 stolen bases, Crumbliss has a chance to eclipse his career-highs in both categories (seven and 24, respectively).
"There have been some ups and downs in my offensive performance," Crumbliss said. "I've tried to stay consistent with getting on base. I think there is room for a lot of improvement on the hitting and putting the ball in play. Sometimes I get too many strikeouts. I wouldn't say I've had an unsuccessful year but I'd like to cut down on the strikeouts.
"Right now I'm trying to expand my level of comfort with all pitches so that I can be ready to hit anything."
Before the season started, Crumbliss had two goals: to improve with the glove both in the outfield and at second base and to be in shape to compete day-in and day-out.
"I tried to get better on defense and got my body in shape for the whole season because it's a grind," he said. "I also wanted to become more accurate with my barrel on the bat."
Crumbliss attended Emporia State University for four years out of high school. He became a legend with the baseball program and broke numerous offensive records by the time he left.
He hit .413 with 12 home runs and 41 RBI as a junior and was named to the First Team All-MIAA and Second Team All-Region. During his senior year, Crumbliss was the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association Player of the Year while leading the nation in runs scored (92) and he set an MIAA and Emporia State record with 30 doubles. He also led Emporia to the NCAA Division II championship game.
Crumbliss finished his career at ESU as the school's all-time career leader hits, doubles, at-bats and runs scored and the MIAA career leader in doubles (78).
Crumbliss was selected in the 30th round of the 2009 draft by Oakland. In 2010, his first full season, he led the Midwest League and all Oakland minor leaguers with 126 walks. In addition, he finished second in the Midwest League and led all Oakland minor leaguers with a .421 on-base percentage. Crumbliss swiped 24 bases that year (fourth in Oakland's organization). Crumbliss had similar success last season with High-A Stockton, walking 96 times and posting a .404 on-base percentage while stealing 24 bases.
During his professional career, Crumbliss has developed a reputation for being one of the toughest outs in the minor leagues. This year, he received some league recognition for his play, being named to the Texas League's mid-season All-Star team. It was the first such honor for Crumbliss as a professional. He enjoyed the experience and was enthusiastic to meet some of the other players around the league at the game in Tulsa.
"That was a big honor," Crumbliss said. "There were a lot of great players in that game and it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed getting to meet some of the other guys in the league that you play against all the time."
Last year, Crumbliss had a huge second half for the Ports, helping to lead the A's High-A affiliate to a spot in the Cal League finals. He will be looking for similar results down-the-stretch this year. The Rockhounds will need a big month of August to make the post-season, however, as they currently sit 8.5 games back of a playoff spot.