Elijah Rumler tends to get overlooked... literally. Some of his taller teammates on the South Bend Silver Hawks wouldn't be able to see Rumler if he was standing directly in front of them. At just 5-feet, 8-inches tall standing perfectly erect, Rumler can also get overlooked by scouts; after stealing 15 of 17 bases and posting a .416 on-base percentage at Kansas State his senior year, Rumler nevertheless fell to the 39th round of last year's draft.
Does Rumler see his size as a disadvantage?
"Yes and no," teetered Rumler. "In baseball, you can be any [size] and play, but there are a lot of setbacks for being short, that's for sure."
There is an advantage to being short when playing in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system, however. Roving outfield and baserunning instructor Brett Butler, who was approximately 5-10, 160-pounds in his playing days, notoriously worked hard to overcome the perceived disadvantages of being small. Butler gave Rumler a little extra attention in spring training, despite the fact that Rumler is not an outfielder.
"He came up to talk to me a few times and told me about being the short guy and no one thinking you can do it," Rumler recalled. "It's all up here, in your head."
The preface to Butler's autobiography, Field of Hope, is entitled, "Proving People Wrong." At age 39, Butler writes, "For years being small and light was the obstacle I had to overcome to stay in the game. Now it's what allows me to play like a young man."
Likewise, it's easy to get the impression that if Eli Rumler can hang around in the game of baseball, he's going to develop into a productive player. In 188 Missoula at bats last year, Rumler batted .271 and matched his college career total with two homers, despite the disadvantage of switching from aluminum to wooden bats.
"There's a difference," Rumler explained. "With aluminum, you can hit it off the end of the bat and it still goes out. With the wood, if you hit it off the end of the bat, it's not going anywhere."
"Playing infield, it's a little slower with the wood bat."
Infield defense is one avenue for a player like Rumler to contribute, knowing that he isn't going to belt out a ton of taters. Splitting time nearly equally between second base, third base, and shortstop this season, Rumler has made some huge strides defensively. He has made only one error through 98 chances at the hot corner (.990 F%) and turned 24 double plays in 55 games as a middle infielder.
"I've been short and third most of my life," narrated Rumler. "I'm starting to play second now. I prefer short. Second's new, so it's fun to learn."
"For double plays, being at second base is a lot different than shortstop. I've been learning from some of the guys on the team now. I'm getting better at it. I've still got a few things to work on, but I'll get there."
Rumler cited veteran and fellow middle infielder Matt Oxendine as one of the teammates who has helped him the most during his stay at South Bend.
"He's a guy everybody looks up to," Rumler said of Oxendine. "He knows what's going on, what to do. He's the old guy - well, not the old guy - but a guy who's been here for two years now."
It could soon be two years since Rumler has hit a home run. Despite that two-homer "outburst" in Missoula, Rumler hasn't hit a homer in his past 270-plus at bats.
"If I hit the barrel, and I've got enough wind, I can get one out," conceded the modest Rumler. "I've been trying to go the other way. That's where I make my money at. If I pull the ball, hopefully I run it in a gap or down the line."
Going the other way makes Rumler well-suited to hitting second in the batting order, although his recent hot hitting has precipitated his batting fifth in the past few contests.
"Yeah, it's ideal for that," Rumler said earlier in the season of advancing runners in the number-two hole. "The leadoff hitter we've got now [Evan Frey] is pretty good, so he's going to be on base. If you hit behind him, you get a few runs across the board."
Rumler is clearly figuring things out at the professional level. Between hitting behind runners, learning the double play pivot, and hitting advanced breaking pitches, there is a lot for a player in his first full pro season to assimilate.
"It's a different game of baseball than it is in college," saged Rumler. "There are different rules, rules that you don't really know, but you learn them going through different things. You're playing against the best of the best guys: guys trying to make it to the big leagues."
Rumler is one of those guys trying to make it to the big leagues, but time will determine whether he can be the best of the best. He's going to need to be more consistent (he batted .170 in 100 June at bats) to do that. At Rumler's stature and draft slot, a prolonged slump usually means a cut, leaving little room for error.
So if Eli Rumler knows what's good for him, he'll continue "Proving People Wrong" and not stop until he is playing in the major leagues.
Send questions or comments for Keith Glab to firstname.lastname@example.org
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