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.