While writing about Johns Sickels yesterday, my mind immediately wandered to Cito Culver. He’s about as unexciting, while still a solid prospect, as a #1 pick can be. When Dante Bichette Jr. was picked, he was criticized as being a pick in Culver’s vein – unexciting and low-ceiling. Unlike Culver, Bichette pretty much quashed those fears right out of the gate.
I think that Cito Culver is a better prospect than people realize. To quote Sickels, and impartial observer:
13) Cito Culver, SS, Grade C+: Good defensive reports, still very raw with the bat but was younger than most of his competition. Grade will rise when/if he makes offensive progress.
Unlike most prospects, those good defensive reports are the most important thing we can hear right now. In a world where the average MLB shortstop hits .263/.317/.380, a player who can barely play shortstop with little hitting talent like Eduardo Nunez becomes an important asset. From pretty much his first few days as a Yankee, we’ve heard that Cito Culver has actually been quite good at the position. He’s no Ramiro Pena out there, but signs point to Culver evolving into an above-average defensive shortstop, if not better.
This all comes at a very young age and at a low level of experience. Culver was pretty close to the youngest possible draftee in the 2010 draft class. He turned 18 on August 26, 2010, and just turned 19 this past August. In contrast, his fellow 2010 draftee Mason Williams turned 20 years old in the same month. That’s a big year for a young, growing athlete. On top of that, Culver is from upstate New York. Unlike your typical American prospect out of Southern California or the old confederacy, Culver was not able to play year-round baseball in high school. He wasn’t able to compete in as many top-shelf showcases against the best players in the country. He didn’t play every day in his high school league against a group of future top college stars and the occasional future MLB pitcher. And finally, he didn’t play with the quality of coaching that most young first round picks can expect these days.
Put that all together, and I think you have to give Culver a pass on hitting .251/.323/.334 in his first 125 professional games. Conversely, I think you also have to given him credit for having a true knack for defense despite relative inexperience. Cito Culver doesn’t exhibit the tools to go out there and be Troy Tulowitzki, but guys like David Eckstein, John McDonald, Adam Everett and even Omar Vizquel have long and productive MLB careers. There’s not a huge difference between a journeyman like Ramiro Pena and a guy like Eckstein.
Were the Yankees wrong to pick Culver with the 32nd overall pick of the 2010 draft? I think they are probably pretty happy with what they got at this point. It’s easy to point to someone drafted soon after Culver and use hindsight to say the Yankees should have selected that other prospect. But Culver has turned out pretty much as expected: an interesting project who just might turn into a MLB shortstop. Culver signed quickly and cheaply, allowing the Yankees to negotiate with and eventually sign Mason Williams and Angelo Gumbs.
Bottom line: don’t dismiss Cito Culver. I think he could surprise us quite a bit in his first bout in full-season ball.
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