In 2012, Conner Crumbliss was the minor league leader in walks by a significant margin. He drew 120 free passes in 128 games. He was the only player in the minor leagues to draw at least 100 walks in 2012. Crumbliss walked more often than several former A's players who were famous for getting on-base, including Jack Cust and Dan Johnson.
Leading in the minor leagues in walks is nothing new for Crumbliss, who also took home that crown in 2010. In 453 career minor league games, Crumbliss has drawn 402 walks and has a career .416 OBP.
Crumbliss' 2012 campaign wasn't all about walks, however. The Kansas native made his first season at the Double-A level a strong one. He posted a .414 OBP, good for second in the league, and an 805 OPS, the highest OPS of his career. Crumbliss established career highs in homeruns (10), triples (six) and slugging percentage (.391). He also equaled his career-high in stolen bases with 24.
A 28th-round pick out of Emporia State in 2009, Crumbliss has climbed a steady path up the Oakland A's organizational ladder over the past four years. In 2009, he spent most of his professional debut season with the short-season Vancouver Canadians before a late-season promotion to Low-A Kane County. Since then, Crumbliss has spent entire seasons at one level, playing in Kane County for all of 2010, High-A Stockton in 2011 and Double-A Midland in 2012. He will be competing for a spot on the Triple-A Sacramento roster this spring.
We caught-up with Crumbliss this week to find out how he was preparing for the 2013 campaign, his thoughts on his 2012 season and more…
OaklandClubhouse: How has your off-season gone so far?
Conner Crumbliss: Pretty good. I got married in October.
CC: Thank you. Going up into that, it was hectic. Since then, it has been pretty smooth sailing though.
OC: What are your goals going into spring training?
CC: Same as every year. Just trying to get in good shape and have my body ready for the everyday grind. Obviously getting better at all skills – hitting, fielding. But the biggest part is coming in in-shape and having my arm ready and my legs ready.
OC: You've been pretty durable throughout your professional career. Is there something that you do that you think is a key for you to stay healthy throughout the season?
CC: I guess just trying to stay stretched properly. I try not to do anything in the weightroom or at home to jeopardize that. During the season, I do the same things as everybody else. Nothing too special, but I have been fortunate to stay out of the training room for the most part in my career.
OC: You made the jump from High-A to Double-A last year. People talk about that being perhaps the most difficult jump in the minor leagues. What was the biggest difference for you between the two leagues?
CC: There were two big differences, I thought. With the pitchers, you are still seeing the same guys you have seen throughout your career, but they have gotten better at locating their best pitches. If it is a curveball, they've gotten to the point where they can throw it and it is a strike-out pitch for them, or whatever their pitch is. They have just gotten a lot more consistent at throwing pitches that are a lot harder to hit. Also, if they get behind in the count, it's not 'fastball-over-the-plate time' anymore. It's 'what can I throw to get you to chase, or to get you out?' That was the big difference.
Also, defenders got a lot better, too. I think it's a lot harder to find hits. I think you can play your same season a few levels down and maybe hit 30 or 40 points higher because the defenders aren't as good. It just seems like all around, guys are getting better at defense and it is a lot harder to find the holes. Those are the two biggest differences, I think.
OC: You established a career-high in homeruns last year (10). Is that a part of your game that happens more by accident, or are you consciously trying to hit homeruns more often as you have matured as a player?
CC: I don't think it is something that I am really striving for. The homeruns are great and having more power, I think the biggest reason for that is that when I first got into professional baseball, I was pretty much an all-opposite field hitter. In High-A, I worked with our hitting coach Brian McArn and he really helped me work on hitting inside pitches and pulling them better.
I think I've always had enough power to hit them out. I just wasn't very consistent because I didn't have that much experience doing it. Now I am getting better at it and I am getting a little bit bigger and stronger and [the homeruns] are coming a little more often. I think that is the only reason.
OC: You had a chance to play in the Texas League All-Star game last year. What was that like?
CC: That was a lot of fun. You got to play against those guys all year. It was an honor to be invited to go. It's pretty special. You see a lot of guys who were in that game who finished the year in the big leagues. It was a lot of fun and it kind of opens your eyes that you aren't that far off [from the big leagues] and that you still have a chance. That was the biggest take-away I got from that.
OC: This is kind of a funny stat, but you have stolen exactly 24 bases each of the past three seasons. Is 24 your lucky number?
CC: I don't know. This year, I got to 18 pretty early and I remember thinking ‘man, I'm going to get past 24 this time.' And then it just didn't happen. I don't know what my deal is, if I just have 24 in the tank or what. [laughs]
OC: You managed to draw almost a walk a game this past year, and that is something that you have been able to do pretty consistently throughout your career. Have you changed your approach at the plate at all since, say, back with Vancouver and Kane County in 2009? Are you looking for different pitches to hit then you were back then?
CC: Yeah, I think I have gotten more aggressive in some aspects. I've always had that same approach of trying to make pitchers work and give myself a chance to get on base. But in certain situations, especially with a guy like me, I know when fastballs are going to be coming sometimes. People are just going to try to pipe one to get ahead. I've gotten better at picking my spots and trying to attack pitchers and get extra-base hits. I think that also has helped with the power rise.
My approach is still pretty much the same, but now when I get into a more favorable count, I try to be more aggressive and take advantage of mistakes.
OC: Do you find that opposing players or umpires when you have been in a league for a little while get to know you as a player who sees a lot of pitches, or is that something that doesn't happen as much in the minor leagues?
CC: I think a lot of those guys do know. Especially in the Texas League, you play the same three teams so often. The catchers, more than anybody, they know who you are and what you are about. I'll have catchers every once in awhile say ‘we aren't going to walk you today. There's just no way.' It's kind of funny when you get in the box and that's what they have to say to you.
I think I do get pitched a lot different than other guys on our team because pitchers know that I am not going to be super aggressive and they can get away with more, I guess. But that's just how I play.
OC: You talked a little bit about your fielding earlier. How much time do you spend working on playing in the outfield as opposed to the infield in the off-season?
CC: I try to do 50-50, but a lot of times it doesn't work out. Living in Kansas, it gets pretty chilly and sometimes you aren't able to get outside to do the things that you want to do. I live in Emporia and our college has a turf infield, so I do get to spend a little bit more time in the infield because it's in a little better shape to do all of that work. I get a chance to work on it, but I try to do 50-50 and be ready for both.
OC: Is there a position that you prefer most on the diamond?
CC: I'll say second base because I think you are more involved in the game. When you are in the outfield, it's not like you aren't paying attention, but you just aren't as involved. You don't get the ball as much. You don't get to throw it around the horn, obviously. When you are at second base, you are dang near involved in every pitch. I would say it is more fun to be in the infield because you are more involved.
OC: I don't think I had a chance to ask you about this when you were with Stockton, but in the game you hit for the cycle, the play that was ruled a double looked initially like it was a homerun. Were you glad for that ruling at the end of the day, or would you have preferred a two-homer game?
CC: I don't really care either way. It was pretty cool to hit for the cycle, but two homers, I've never done that in my life. [laughs] It would have been special either way, but I guess it worked out for me.
OC: Did you have a pretty clear view of the ball? Did you see it go out, or was it hard for you to tell?
CC: I had no idea. Honestly, I thought it had hit off of the fence because we went out there the next day and tried throwing balls off of the berm to see if I could get them to come back [into the field of play], and I could never get it to work. I don't know if it made it or not. A lot of people say that it did who were sitting out there though. We'll never know.
OC: What is your outlook going into spring training? You've moved up a level every year of your career. Does your mindset change going into spring training know that you are getting closer to a possible look in the big leagues, or is it the same as when you were in A-ball?
CC: Honestly, my mindset hasn't changed too much. My goal is to remain consistent and to try to be the same player everyday. I am just going to go and try to do the same things I have done the past four years and not try to do too much or put myself in a position where I won't succeed.