Scouting Yankees Prospect #22: Cito Culver

Culver has a discerning eye at the plate

The New York Yankees selected shortstop Cito Culver in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft out of Irondequoit High School in New York. His numbers in his first taste of the long-season leagues last year were not very good. However, despite being one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League, he was never really over-matched and he still offers significant long-term potential.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Cito Culver
Position: Shortstop
DOB: August 26, 1992
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 190
Bats: Both
Throws: Right

He hit just .215 with two home runs for the low-A Charleston RiverDogs in 2012, but one of the youngest players in the league, spending the majority of the season as a 19-year old, he finished the year seventh in the leagues in walks with 71.

"I felt like I belonged," Culver said. "I know my numbers don't show it but I felt really good about being there. I felt like I was a leader on the team and I helped my teammates whenever I could. I felt like I was supposed to be there.

"It was a tough year for me numbers-wise but I felt like I learned a lot and I grew a lot as a player and a teammate. I think people look at my numbers and think I didn't get anything out of [last] year but I think I learned a lot and grew as a player."

An amazing defensive player despite his youth, one who commands the field of play, offensively he has remained a work in progress. Already boasting a big league approach, he has been trying to work on perfecting his swing.

"The biggest thing with me was trying to simplify everything, instead of moving a lot, just not moving at all really," he said. "Once I slowed everything down with my swing and stuff, that helped me a lot.

"I started to make more solid contact and started to have better at-bats once I wasn't moving as much. I wouldn't say I was changing a lot of things, I just went from a lot of movement in my swing, try to cut it down and not move it as much."

It normally takes young switch-hitters a bit longer to get a consistent swing path from both sides of the plate and Culver is no different, but yet many of Culver's critics want him to focus on just one side for now in an effort to accumulate better statistics.

"We're still working on both sides," he said. "I'm comfortable with that. I have a lot of confidence in myself and once I get my swing remedied it's going to work on both sides of the plate.

"I've switch-hit my whole life. Like literally since I was three years old I've always hit both ways. I've never not hit one way. It's just something I'm comfortable with and I think I can be successful switch-hitting and I don't want to give up on it at such a young age."

The fact is he's gone through what many young players need to endure and that's failure. Few can correct weaknesses if they're not exposed and Culver knows what he needs to do going forward.

"I think it has a lot to do with my swing as a whole. At Instructs this year I made some good strides in the right direction and now I'm working with one of the hitting coaches down here [at the minor league complex] on some stuff.

"I feel like I'm really confident and I'm excited to see what happens next year once I get all of this stuff done down here."

Few question his ability to be an impact defensive player and even fewer believe he can't stick at shortstop long-term. And while his offensive numbers in 2012 don't exactly show it, team insiders believe he also has some significant potential with the bat too.

"He's a fantastic young fielder at shortstop," said Mark Newman, Yankees senior vice president in charge of scouting and player development. " He makes plays once a week where your immediate reaction is 'how did he do that?' -- he can really, really play defense.

"So he's working on getting stronger physically and he's spending a lot of time with [Farm Director] Pat Roessler with having a more efficient approach at the plate. We think the future is bright for him. In fact we feel great about him."

Year

Team

AVG

AB

2B

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

SO

OBP

SLG

2012 Charleston .215 466 14 2 40 66 22 71 104 .321 .283
2011 Staten Island .250 276 14 2 33 40 10 30 57 .323 .337
2010 Staten Island .186 43 1 0 0 2 1 8 10 .340 .209
2010 GCL Yankees .269 160 7 2 18 21 6 13 41 .320 .363


Batting and Power. Culver's critics can't seem to overlook the lower batting averages and walk away with the belief that he has what it takes to be a good hitter for average down the road. While he certainly needs to get better in that regard, the fact is he has the basics in place to be a good hitter and it starts with his advanced patience and pitch recognition. He really knows the strike zone. The problem has been consistently driving the ball with more authority and not rolling over as much, two areas of his game that should improve as he matures, especially given his great hand-eye coordination. He will probably be a below average home run hitter long-term but could be the kind of guy who collects a lot of extra-base hits, especially if he continues to fill out his frame.

Base Running and Speed. Culver is more of an average speed guy overall but it plays higher because of his aggressiveness on the base paths and his head's up style of play. He is exceptional at taking the extra base and running station to station, and while he will get caught stealing more than he should because the speed isn't plus, he has the ability to annually steal 20-30 bags.

Defense. Culver was born to play shortstop. Like his speed, his range is probably more average than anything but it plays a level or two higher because of his tremendous feel for the game. He positions himself like a seasoned big league veteran, he has great hands, amazing instincts, and his arm strength is plus. He is a difference-maker defensively.

Projection. The fact that Culver can play an outstanding shortstop means he will be given every opportunity to further develop his offensive game. While the lower minor league level numbers don't exactly bear it out, he has some solid offensive potential too. He might not ever be a .300 hitter, but he has the tools to potentially be a .350 or better on-base guy long-term who can steal bases too. Throw in his great defense and those players are very valuable. A little Brett Gardner-like, Culver might not get the respect he deserves until folks can see his intangible impact on a baseball diamond first-hand on a daily basis.

ETA. 2015. Culver's low offensive numbers could have him back in low-A Charleston for some more seasoning to start the 2013 season, but he should see ample at-bats in the Florida State League at some point this coming season.

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