Name: Cito Culver
Handedness: Bats right, throws right handed.
Draft: 2010 first round draft pick from Rochester, NY
Size: 6-foot-0, 190-pounds
Best Tool: Defense
BBDP Rank: 24
Since the day he was drafted, Cito Culver has been a divisive player amongst prospect fans and followers. The reason for that is not because of anything he has done wrong, but because the Yankees chose to draft him with their first pick. About 50% of people were against the pick, and the other 50% either liked the pick or decided that the Yankees had scouts that know a lot more than us.
From the moment he signed, Cito has not done much to prove any of the naysayers wrong… until recently.
Playing in his first professional season at the age of 17, Cito held his own in the GCL with a .251/.325/.330/.655 line. It gave everyone a bit of hope that with his speed and athleticism maybe the Yankees made the right choice drafting him so high. Others were still skeptical. Still, he hadn’t done anything yet to quiet the critics.
Then, in 2011, Cito had a similarly mediocre year, hitting .250/.323/.337/.660 with 2 homeruns, 10 stolen bases, and 57 strikeouts in 312 plate appearances. Still, his fans hadn’t given up on him because most accepted he was a long term project, especially with the bat. Then 2012 happened.
The Yankees gave Culver the reigns at shortstop for Low-A Charleston, and it seemed he just couldn’t handle the pitching at this level. Scouts everywhere were calling for the Yankees to force Culver to abandon hitting left handed. “He looks lost,” they all said. His .215/.321/.283/.604 quad slash didn’t change any minds either. At this point even the staunchest of Culver supporters had a difficult time defending the draft choice.
During the offseason, however, Culver made an important choice. He gave up left handed hitting. It was a tough decision, he said, but he admitted to feeling much more comfortable from the right side. Thus, it was his own choice to give up hitting lefty.
At first, the results were grim. There was barely any improvement in the average. Some felt this was to be expected because the man had never batted right handed against righties. Some, including me, were skeptical that any improvement would ever occur. By about 3/4 of the way through the season, it appeared that nothing had changed and Cito Culver was the butt of every joke about the Yankees drafting for the past six years.
Then, all of a sudden something clicked with Cito. He started to tear the cover off the ball in Low-A. His average quickly went from about .210 to .232. Granted it had nowhere to go but up, but the Yankees thought enough of it to give him a late season promotion to High-A Tampa with just 16 games left. In those 16 games Cito tore the cover off the ball some more. He had a .355/.394/.484/.878 quad slash and he hit five doubles and a homerun. This brought his season total to nine homeruns and a quad slash of .248/.322/.362/.684. While the totals are not the most impressive, those last 5-6 weeks of the season breathed life back into Culver’s career.
Culver’s tools have been well known since the day he was drafted. He’s a defensive whiz with a cannon for an arm who has plus speed. We also knew from the start that he was light hitting and that he would need to learn to either hit or get on base in order to make it to the major leagues.
Throughout the years we have seen what scouts have said about Culver’s left handed swing. It looks like he has also read some of those reports because he finally gave it up. After a 3/4 of a season adjustment period he might have figured it out.
No one doubts his defense. He has great hands, great range, and a plus plus arm. The questions surrounding Culver are pretty clear. Can he hit? Can he do something offensively that will make him average so that his defense can carry him to the majors?
The one thing Culver has proven he can do offensively is have great patience. He draws a ton of walks. He clearly sees the ball well it’s just a matter of finding that stroke, which he may well have done late this season.
All of that remains to be seen but Culver has finally taken a step in the right direction. He has shown that he can hit for power with respect to his position. Now if he can take that last 1/4 of a season and hit the ground running next year, he’ll be on his way.
People are not going to agree with this, but Cito Culver still, after all these years, has the potential to be an all-star shortstop. He’s got the glove for it, it just comes down to finding a way to help his team on offense. If he does he will not only make the major leagues, but he will be a successful major leaguer. His floor is obvious to anyone who has been following the system for the past five years. Bust. If he doesn’t come out hitting like he did at the end of this year, all of the same people are going to be out there insisting he’s a bust, and they will be right.
2014 is a big year for Cito to prove that he is a legit prospect. My predicition is that he does just that. He became one of the toughest outs in the league down the stretch for the Tampa Yankees. All he has to do is pick up where he left off and the Yankees will have something special on their hands. If he is able to prove that he has figured something out in his swing, he will likely be up to Trenton before the end of the season. From that point on, it’s anyone’s guess how long it could take him to get to the majors, but 2015 is not out of the question.
Cito Culver has taken a lot of abuse over the years from scouts and prospect followers, but 2014 could be his year to shine. He is one of my picks as one of the five biggest sleepers this organization has to offer for 2014 mostly because he looks like he’s finally learned how to hit.
Up next: 2014 Breakout candidate: Rookie Davis.