Cito Culver Struggles In the SAL

When the New York Yankees selected Cito Culver in the first round of the 2010 draft, the pick was met with surprise — shock actually. From upstate New York, the teenage shortstop was pegged as a third round pick or later by most accounts. Two years later, Culver’s batting average is just above the “Mendoza Line” and his slugging percentage sits below .300.

Video after the jump

So what’s wrong with Culver? Maybe nothing as a scout I crossed paths with in Auburn, New York mentioned seeing him quite a bit as an amateur and considered Culver a better bet to reach the major leagues as a pitcher than position player. In hearing he popped the mitt at 92-94 MPH as an amateur, one has to wonder if the Yankees would consider pulling the plug on Culver the shortstop in favor of Culver the relief pitcher.

Listed at six feet tall and 185 pounds, Culver may have been a bit heavier in person as his lower half has really started to fill out. This may limit his range some on defense, but Culver did present with fluid baseball movements and average athleticism for the shortstop position. One concern is his upper body which had little discernible muscle development. If for some reason Culver is not hitting the weight room and filling out through the hips, then one has to wonder whether the size he does have is due to adding “good weight”.

On defense, Culver charged ground balls to cut down his throw to first and flashed at least an above average throwing arm. Range, specifically to his backhand side, appeared a bit suspect. However, Culver has plenty of arm to make the play which can’t be said for a large number of minor league shortstops. For a teenager, 16 miscues in close to 100 games is an acceptable number. When considering Culver had one more error in 28 fewer games in 2011, his error totals become even more impressive. At present, his saving grace on the diamond is his defensive play and the rest of his all-around game lags considerably behind.

The switch hitter understands how to work counts and draw a free pass. Is this a good base to work from? Sure, but more advanced pitching will challenge the Culver to hit his way on base. From the left side, Culver does his best Ichiro impression with a sweeping swing plane and slight lunge forward as the bat head comes through the strike zone. Of course there’s only one Ichiro so imitating a swing which might as well be labeled “TM” may not be the best idea. On paper, it’s also his weaker side.

Culver exhibits more strength at the plate from the right side, but his set up and load include multiple hitches which negatively affect timing. Leg kick? Check. Drops hands? Check. Unnecessary bat waggle? Check. He has too many moving parts in his swing from the right side. This makes it impossible to repeat hitting mechanics and make consistent barrel contact.

Twenty stolen bases thus far is an indicator of present in game speed, but his 72% success rate forces the question of how much? At present, I’d consider him a slightly above average runner who is likely to slow down before reaching an age one can expect big leaguers to surface.

If Culver still has 92-94 MPH off of a mound in his arm, it would benefit the Yankees organization to make a move sooner rather than later. There may be value to salvage there, but it’s probably not as a position player. Sure, prospect followers may point to his age (19) as a reason to be patient with Culver. I’d use that same age to justify why a move to the mound should be made over the winter. The younger a prospect is, the more time he has to figure it out. Had Cito Culver not been a former first round pick, I would have labeled him a non-prospect and moved onto other players on the Charleston roster. Due to draft status, he will be afforded a much longer leash than a player of his true talent level probably deserves.

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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.

20 Responses to “Cito Culver Struggles In the SAL”

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  1. Angelo says:

    It’s been a down year for the Yankees farm system overall. Culver has been awful, despite his ability to take a walk. Bichette hasn’t quite taken off, but he still has plenty of time to get better.

    Gumbs was having a good year, but then he got hurt. Ravel Santana has been in and out of the line up with injuries. Mason Williams is done for the season. Dellin Betances has looked horrific this season. Jose Campos has been injured almost all season. And today, the Yankees announced that they were shutting Manny Banuelos down for the rest of the season.

    At least Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott (despite being a DH/CF this year) and Ramon Flores have had solid seasons, while Tyler Austin has been the breakout prospect. And some of the non-top guys have played well, but it’s hard to watch the system have a year like this.

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    • YanksFanInBeantown says:

      Mason hit very well for 4 months and is an almost consensus Top 30 prospect. It sucks that he got hurt, but his development this year can’t be seen as anything but a positive.

      Also, Matt Tracy, Nik Turley and Brett Marshall have looked quite good as well.

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      • ScHoolBoyQ says:

        Mason had a great year for sure, but it speaks to what a tough year it’s been when the best story involves a guy who will be shut down for the rest of the year and miss some key development time.

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      • Angelo says:

        Yeah. I understand that. Mason was great up until the injury hit him. Nik Turley and Brett Marshall and many other players have played well, but they’re not consensus top 10 prospects in the farm system. If I was talking about top 12-30 guys, I would start talking about Jospeh, Adams, Pirela, Mesa, Segedin, Jose Ramirez, Turley, Marshall, Mitchell, etc…

        If Turley performs well in Double-A next season and Marshall performs well in Triple-A, that changes things a bit. But I’m talking about the front line prospects, which are Sanchez, Williams, Austin, Banuelos, Betances (not anymore), Campos, Bichette, Heathcott, and to a lesser extent Gumbs, Flores, Santana.

        Many of those guys have either been hurt throughout the season(Campos, Gumbs, Banuelos Santana) or performed poorly (Bichette, Betances.)

        That leaves Mason Williams (who’s done for the season now), Sanchez, Austin, Heathcott, and Flores as big prospects who have performed well this season.

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      • Brian S. says:

        Also CoJo, Adams, the Almonte brothers have had good years.

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    • Mike Newman says:


      I think you underestimate Brett Marshall. When seeing both Heathcott and Marshall on the same field, I preferred Marshall and it wasn’t even a contest. Much higher floor and the ceiling of a solid mid-rotation guy.

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      • Angelo says:

        Thanks for the information. I’m a fan of Marshall, but his low strike out numbers this season (6.16 K/9) have made me worry a bit. On the bright side his strike out numbers have made a significant jump over the past month or so.

        Good to hear that you think highly of him. If he becomes a solid starter in MLB, I’d be ecstatic. Time will tell.

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      • YanksFanInBeantown says:

        On the strikeout rate, to put an insanely unfair comparison on him, I’ve heard that he’s Jordan Zimmermann-ing and pitching more to contact than trying to strike guys out. He’s definitely been getting a lot of ground balls this year.

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      • Derek says:

        I have the same feelings as Angelo. I’m concerned about the low strikeouts in the minors not translating well down the road.

        I think the low strikeouts combined with the low-ish BABIp of .273 could be something to keep an eye on. The ground balls and bb/9 are certainly a good thing though.

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      • geefee says:

        I really hope “he’s Jordan Zimmermann-y! (substitute whoever is out-ERA’ing their peripherals in that year)” doesn’t become a thing now whenever a pitching prospect has a low ERA despite getting very few strikeouts.

        His Ks have picked up big time of late, and that’s the best thing that can be said. If he keeps that up we’re in business, but if a guy is only striking out 6/9 in AA, his chances are really, really slim without great GB rates and/or velocity. For whatever reason though, I have a feeling he’ll stick in the Majors be it as a second division starter or in a David Phelpsian role.

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    • RobM says:

      I agree it’s been a down year, with injuries being a signicant contributing factor. Players like Banuelos and Campos and Romine suffering mostly lost seasons, and others like Santana, Heathcott and Adams working their way back from injuries. I’m less concerned about them than I am someone like Betances, who is rapidly approaching bust.

      Yet there are a number of very positive developments, some already mentioned, as well as others. Williams, Sanchez and Austin have all been top notch. Any farm system would be glad to have that trio. Aune looks good in the early going, although probably shouldn’t inlcude this year’s draft class yet. Nik Turley and Brett Marshall are certainly in the positive camp, especially the latter. Corban Joseph has progressed on the power front and is now in AAA. Ben Gamel has moved forward and looks like he might be be the Gamel to have a MLB bat. Mark Montgomery is putting up David Robertson numbers in the minors and will probably be in the Yankee pen next year.

      Another player who took a big step forward quality wise this year is Jose Pirela. He’s repeating AA, so that needs to be taken into consideration, but he once was viewed as a promising talent and he’s still only 22, OPSing near .900 all year. I haven’t seen any reviews on him and would be curious what Mike Newman thinks or is hearing about the kid.

      Overall there has been injuries and some disappointments, and a lot of great stories too, mixed in with players holding their own as they move up levels. My guess that’s pretty much any farm system.

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  2. Angelo says:

    Brian S.,

    I mentioned Joseph and Adams in my second post. Also, I’m pretty sure I see you on RAB pretty often.

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  3. RobM says:

    Way too early to convert to a reliever. I suppose if he had an electric arm, and one that could be viewed as a starter, then it would make sense. Yet the gain for a relief arm as a opposed to a position player? No.

    If he can field, run some and has a decent eye, all things indicated so far, then what they should do is ditch his switch-hitting and have him bat from his stronger side and give him a couple more years. He can covert to a relief pitcher at 21 or 22.

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    • Preston says:

      I agree, let him focus on one side of the plate and see if he makes offensive gains. It’s not like there is a high standard of offense for SS.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      To each his own really. For me, if I’m not able to squint and see a viable big leaguer, then what’s the point? With his being a non prospect in my eyes, I’d like to see if he could do something else.

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  4. Jimmy says:

    How is it that a Culver has 2 years of professional baseball under his belt and no one has told him to stop wagging the bat/kicking his leg/etc…? These are things even casual fans know not to do. I REALLY don’t understand why a hitting coach in Low A ball doesn’t correct that.

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  5. Clutch says:

    Played ball against him in Rochester a few years ago. Singled and drew an 8 pitch walk off him. Didn’t really impress us as a pitcher, but played the position well and looked good at the plate.

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  6. Pinstripe Wizard says:

    Basically, this guy has the offensive skill set of Nick Punto. While Punto can be useful for a winning club as a utility infielder, drafting him in the first round would be seen as laughable. That is what has occurred here.

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    • Ted Nelson says:

      No. About 1 in 5 guys taken in the first after 20 have any MLB impact at all, so drafting Punto there would have been a good pick. Would not have been laughable at all. He would have put up the 3rd highest bWAR of any player taken after pick 15 in the first and signed in his draft class.

      If Culver has the career Punto did, that would be a nice win for the Yankees. That the offensive bar is so low at SS is probably why he’s still there. Even though he may never be Nick Punto, maybe he can at least be Ramiro Pena.

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