Prospect Profile: Cito Culver

What Went Wrong: Nick The (Injured) Stick
What Went Wrong: Alex Rodriguez
(Photo Credit: Andy In Sunny Daytona)

Cito Culver | SS

Background
Born and raised in Rochester, Culver (whose real name is Christopher) starred both on the mound and in the field at Irondequoit High School. He was named All-Monroe County all four years of high school, and was named regional Player of the Year as a senior, when he hit .561. He hit two grands slams in the same game this April, one from each side of the plate. Pretty cool.

The Yankees selected Culver with their first round pick, #32 overall, making him the first position player ever to be drafted out of the Rochester area in the first round. It was perhaps two full rounds earlier than where most pre-draft projections had him going. Culver signed as soon as he graduated high school (less than two weeks after the draft) for a $954,000 bonus, exactly slot money for that pick.

Culver’s father, Chris Sr., is currently in prison for arson (and two other charges) after burning the family house down in March 2008. He was sentenced to a maximum of nine years, and was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder. You can read more about that and how it impacted Cito in this great Wayne Coffey piece.

Pro Debut
Culver was assigned to the Yankees’ rookie level affiliate in the Gulf Coast League after signing, where he hit .269/.320/.363 with seven doubles and two homers in 179 plate appearances, stealing six bases in nine tries. He was rewarded with a late season promotion to Short Season Staten Island, where he hit just .186/.340/.209 in 54 measly plate appearances. It was a solid test for a kid that didn’t turn 18-years-old until late August, and he did well considering his lack of experience against top shelf competition in high school.

Scouting Report
A bonafide long-term shortstop through and through, Culver flashes strong range, hands and instincts in combination with his cannon arm, one that unleashed low-90’s fastballs from the mound. His outstanding athletic ability allows him to make up for any mistakes, which should decrease in number with more experience. At 6-foot-0 and 185 lbs., there are no concerns that he will outgrow the position.

Cito’s bat lags behind his defense right now, but he’s a switch-hitter with good bat speed and enough pop to keep pitchers honest. His plate discipline is strong and improving, so he should take enough walks to post better than average on-base percentages in the future. Culver is quick enough to steal bases but needs to improve his basestealing instincts overall. His game is still rather raw unrefined at this point, which is not uncommon with high school prospects from cold weather states.

Much has been made of Culver’s background with regards to his father, but the Yankees watching him plenty and got a good read on his makeup. “I don’t know how a kid recovers from what he went through,” said area scout Tim Alexander, the man in charge with keeping an eye on Culver. “The field is where he gets away. It’s almost where everything makes a lot of sense.”

“Nobody I can think of since I’ve been doing this has been through this kind of adversity, and come through it in such a positive way, with so much character and integrity,” said scouting director Damon Oppenheimer. “Minor league baseball is full of failure. You always wonder how people will handle it. Cito has dealt with bigger things than going 0-for-4 already in his life.” Obviously the Yankees are impressed by how he’s dealt with the adversity.

Here’s a video interview with Culver taken after the draft, and here’s a clip of him on the mound.

2011 Outlook
Culver can handle the jump into full season ball defensively, but the bat might not be there yet. The Yankees could choose to hold him back in Extended Spring Training to start the season before giving him a return ticket to Staten Island in the second half. That’s probably the best route for Culver; he might not be physically ready for the full season grind of the Low-A South Atlantic League. Remember, they held Slade Heathcott back last year, and he was more advanced both physically and baseball-wise than Cito.

My Take
I was surprised by the pick like everyone else, but that doesn’t mean it was bad. The Yankees had scouted Culver more than anyone else and certainly liked him, enough that they didn’t want to risk having him come off the board between their first and second round picks. There were definitely sexier names left on the board, but a premium up-the-middle athlete is always a good gamble to take. The Yanks clearly went for upside in this draft, and Culver offers plenty. Don’t expect a quick mover though, he’s a bit of a project and will need at least a year at each level.

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What Went Wrong: Nick The (Injured) Stick
What Went Wrong: Alex Rodriguez
  • http://twitter.com/SteeeeveO Steve O.

    OH SHIT, MIKE BROUGHT THE PROSPECT PROFILES BACK

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      Next week…..Carmen Angelini.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        ZOMG HE MENTIONED ANGELINI NOW CITO’S JINXED FOREVER

        • Andy In Sunny Daytona

          Sadly, I still have hope for Angelini’s career

          • http://twitter.com/SteeeeveO Steve O.

            So do I, but it’s a different kind of hope. I have hope for his career like I have hope to win the lottery.

  • vin

    This made my week. Thanks, Mike.

  • mbn007

    Thanks for these prospect reports. Information on the kids in the system is always hard to get hold of. As a long time follower of the Yankees Minor League system, and an attendee of quite a few Staten Island Yankees and Trenton Thunder games each year, reading these snippets helps me follow up on who we have down there.

  • Murakami

    Kid looks like a cross between ARod and Ramiro Pena. Now, if he has Pena’s range and Alex’s stick, or Alex’s stick and Alex’s former range, we’re set for the next decade or so ;).

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      So he has to hit like Alex Friggin Rodriguez for you to be happy?

      • Murakami

        Yeah, sure. That’s what I said. Uh-huh.

        • Andy In Sunny Daytona

          Sorry man, I was kidding.

          • http://twitter.com/SteeeeveO Steve O.

            Sorry?

            Who are you, David Ortiz? I want a full blown explanation on why you are sorry.

            /MSM’d

            • Murakami

              He’ll get back to you.

          • Murakami

            ;)

    • Rob

      haha, my first thought exactly..Seeing that picture..I thought 1) Ramiro Pena and 2) Napoleon Dynamite (his smile) lol

  • vin

    One of the things I love about baseball is that the Yanks can select a player in the first round, and everyone says “WHO?!” These scouts have so much ground to cover, both geographically and in terms of talent. This was a pretty gutsy pick by the Yanks – I give DO credit for getting the player he wanted.

    • Murakami

      The kid’s makeup just sounds terrific. Love that he’s a Jeter boy. You know Derek will give of himself to help bring him along. Jeter nearing the end is painful. When he struggles, I’m not the fan who lashes out and wants him instantly replaced, I’m the kind that gets a lump in my throat. To have him nurture his apparent heir means the umbilical cord doesn’t have to be harshly severed. He can be an important part of his development.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        “You know hope Derek will give of himself to help bring him along.”

        Jeter is the man, and the Yankee captain, but let’s not act like he’s the paragon of selfless leadership and patient tutorial of the youngsters.

        • Murakami

          I have no reason to believe he won’t be an important presence and teacher for Culver, and nothing in your post persuades me otherwise.

          • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

            How much do they actually spend with the guys in low A ball though? Will Cito even be in ST? Or just re-assigned after a week to another complex?

            Are there stories about Jeter mentoring Nunez that I’m missing?

            • Ted Nelson

              Even if Jeter does everything he possibly can to “mentor” Cito I just don’t think it’s a very important factor. It’s maybe icing on the cake. He can give him some advice to round out the edges, but if Cito can hit he’s a Major Leaguer and if he can’t he’s a Minor Leaguer/utility guy… Jeter can’t take his at bats for him.

              • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

                No I agree- he said he believes Jeter will be a mentor/teacher and I was just questioning how often Derek Jeter is working with 17 year old draft picks.

                • Ted Nelson

                  Yeah, I was agreeing with you but just adding my 2 cents at the end of the comment string. He’s probably not going to have much contact with him like you said, and even if he does I’m not sure there is an osmosis property to baseball talent. I mean it probably can’t hurt and might help, but I doubt it takes a kid with no ML future and makes him a star, for example.

  • RL

    Jeter’s fading fast. Bring him up to the ML team next year.

    In all seriousness, I hope he progresses well. It’s a great story and, just maybe, we’ve got a future ML shortstop in development down in the low minors.

    • JobaWockeeZ

      A fading Jeter is >= Culver’s ceiling.

      • RL

        Wow, I hope you’re wrong. With Culver being only 18, what inside info do you have to state that? I have no way of knowing, but I’d love for a strong replacement for Jeter to come through the farm system. It’s a good feeling when fans of other teams point to the Yankees stating how they buy championships and we get to point to home-grown talent like Jeter, Posada, Pettitte, Mo, Cano, Hughes, Gardner, Joba …

        • Nick

          Keep in mind Jeter is one of the best offensive shortstops EVER.

          Fading Jeter >= majority of other team’s shortstops.

          Yankee fans hope Cito Culver becomes an average to above average starting MLB shortstop, not Derek Jeter.

          Hoping Culver strongly replaces Jeter is akin to hoping Tommy Kahnle replaces Mariano. You can do it, but you’re talking about replacing one of the best players to play their respective position.

          • RL

            BTW strongly replaces Jeter =/= a strong replacement for

            In my opinion, a strong replacement for Jeter provides above average defense & offense, not year-after-year All-Star quality play.

            • Ted Nelson

              But why place all hope in Culver? I mean I like him as a prospect, but he’s still probably got a 50/50 chance or something at best. I have my fingers crossed for him, but also for Tamarez, for Nunez (to a lesser degree), for the young SSs who haven’t come over yet from the two Dominican teams, for yet unsigned/undrafted prospects, and for the trade and free agent markets.

          • Ted Nelson

            Good points. Even if Culver were a consensus top 5 pick I wouldn’t like his chances of having the career Jeter has had. He’s got to make it through a few levels of minor league ball with some success before we start polishing his bust for Cooperstown.

            I hope the Yankees can develop *A* SS to replace Jeter or the prospects to trade for one or the budget space to sign one, but I’m not putting all my eggs into Culver’s basket. He’s theoretically closer to the Bronx being a couple years older, but as far as prospects why is Culver going to make it and not, say, Christopher Tamarez?

        • http://twitter.com/riddering Riddering

          Saying that isn’t dogging Culver. It’s recognizing how rare Jeter is. Fourteen seasons of great production from a shortstop is ~awesome~ and not something to be expected every generation. Jeter is the best shortstop the Yankees have ever had at that position for years on end. Ain’t gonna happen again soon.

          • RL

            Having watched Jeter since he came up and having been a Yankee fan nce the ’60’s, I realize that Jeter is a once in a lifetime type of player. However, stating that an 18 year old will not be better than a declining Jeter seems a bit of a stretch. Have you all decided that, based on whatever info you may have, that Culver is not capable of, say, 5-6 years of .280/.360/.480 offense with slightly better than league average defense at the major league level at some point? I’d be satisfied with that for Jeter’s first replacement, especially from a kid brought through the team’s minor league ranks. I would be disappointed to pay many millions of dollars for that (although the team will certainly pay Jeter many millions and only HOPE for that), but would be quite happy with an internally developed player providing those numbers at SS.

            • Hughesus Christo

              People have ZERI perspective toward Jeter and Posada. It’s practically psychotic. Shitty declining Jeter is still good.

            • Ted Nelson

              “Have you all decided that, based on whatever info you may have, that Culver is not capable of, say, 5-6 years of .280/.360/.480 offense with slightly better than league average defense at the major league level at some point?”

              Everyone is hoping for it, but looking at it realistically the odds are against it. Some players reach their ceilings, but most don’t. Will Culver be one who does, doesn’t, comes close? Who knows… All we can say at this point are rough odds of what might happen. Odds are very good Culver is not the next Jeter. Doesn’t mean he can’t, just that it’s not likely.

        • JobaWockeeZ

          Jeter’s WAR this year 2.5
          If Culver manages a 287/.377/.375 line which is similar to Omar Vizqel’s and magically puts up his defensive numebrs his WAR is 2.7

          if Cito comes anyhting clsoe to Jeter’s 2010 we should be happy.

          • RL

            And I would be. Not expecting a superstar, just a solid replacement for when Jeter’s ready to move on.

  • king of fruitless hypotheticals

    …So he’s got four years until he could make it or three?

    if he can make it in three years…

    • Shaun

      3-4 yrs sounds right, Jeter would be retiring the kid would be up at the same time and at the same age as Jeter when he made his.

    • http://twitter.com/SteeeeveO Steve O.

      It’ll probably go something like this:

      Staten Island/Low A — 18
      -A — 19
      +A — 20
      AA — 21
      AAA — 22

      This is assuming no major injuries or no severe developmental struggles. You can account for that by adding a year to his total, making it about 5 years or so. That sounds a bit far, but that’s fairly realistic. JMHO.

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals

        wow. i either forgot or failed to realize the concept of (i know, 1 in a million…so you’re saying there’s a chance?) this kid replacing HOF Jeter at age 22 or 23?!

        man oh man…what are we going to do when our heros are gone?

  • Johnny O

    Outside of being a Yankee fan, this seems like a kid you should root for. His debut was average to above average, considering I expected disaster after all the draft reviews. If this kid hits ML after 6 seasons of MiLB (ages 17-22), he’ll only be 23 which is still great.

    • larryf

      We have a 23 year old SS who hit .289 and was a triple A all-star last year. Faster than Jeter and a better arm with better range…

      /but we wouldn’t want to play him based on 50 ab’s last season when we have a big contract to give to Jeter soon

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        That 23 year old SS also has a lifetime minor league tripleslash of .274/.318/.369.

        Blech.

        • http://twitter.com/SteeeeveO Steve O.

          Not to mention shoddy defense.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

            In Nuñez’s defense, his last two seasons at the highest levels of the minors were much better than anything he’d done prior, and it’s possible that he was a late bloomer and turned the corner.

            But he still needs to prove he can hack it in the majors before we start doing the crazy talk of suggesting that we should consider letting Jeter walk and handing Nuñez the keys to the castle.

            Nuñez’s 2009 and 2010 campaigns moved the chances that he’ll ever be a non-sucky major leaguer from “not bloody likely” to “you should still doubt it, but a single crazier thing has probably happened at some point”.

            • Clay Bellinger

              according to Cashman, he’s a future “major league SS”. That being said, we probrably have a serious issue if he’s the Yanks starting SS.

              • Nick

                You’ll rarely see Cashman say “this kid? he’s TERRIBLE! I most have overdosed on the saki when I picked up this chump.”

                At least in terms of PR, most every prospect in the farm system is a future major league player in the organization’s eye.

                • Clay Bellinger

                  He’s also pretty realistic when talking about players. No, he’s never going to come out and knock a kid because there’s no value in doing that, but saying that they envison him as a “starting” ss in the big leagues is a solid compliment…as is his reluctance to include him in the Cliff Lee trade.

                  He was willing to trade David Adams, but not Nunez, for Lee…that says something.

                  • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

                    Or it says something about the way negotiations were going

              • Hughesus Christo

                Do you realize how low that bar is?

            • http://twitter.com/SteeeeveO Steve O.

              I was saying that in part of him never throwing the ball to the First Baseman’s chest. Every throw needs to be scooped at the feet.

              • http://twitter.com/SteeeeveO Steve O.

                Not ‘never’, but it’s not uncommon.

                • Nick

                  Was that a triple negative?

            • Mike HC

              Nunez definitely looks like he will be a major leaguer. Comparing him to Jeter is just retarded though, but obviously every Yankee shortstop from now until the end of time will be compared to Jeter.

              • larryf

                We are comparing him at 23 vs Jeter at 36. There’s a difference if one look$ at it that way. up$ide v$ down$ide

                Jeter wasn’t that great a defender in the minors but made great strides…

                • Mike HC

                  hahaha

                  Oh yea, I got what you are saying. I was saying comparing Jeter’s career to young up and coming shortstops.

                  I like Nunez. I would prefer to pay Jeter for the next two or three years to play short, but I still like Nunez.

            • http://twitter.com/riddering Riddering

              I’m pretty sure I had an Axisa-esque reaction to Simply reading the suggestion that there’s a million to one chance that Nunez be the Yankees regular ss.

              • king of fruitless hypotheticals

                $ Ninja said he’s a future major league SS…did he say YANKEE SS?

                that’s ninja-esque right there.

        • JobaWockeeZ

          I’d be estatic if Culver has that line.

      • Ted Nelson

        As much as people hate on him and he’s probably never the Yankees Plan A starting SS (i.e. injuries might make him Plan B)… Nunez *IS* a good SS prospect. His defense was knocked for a lack of consistency–not range or arm–which he did address in 2010. His bat is pretty average to above average for a major league SS in this day-and-age.

        Taking an 18 year old kid and saying he better be a well above average SS prospect is just unfair. Maybe he will be, but maybe he never makes it past AA. Nunez would be a pretty good medium-case scenario overall. Sure, I hope he’s the next Jeter but I just don’t expect it.

        • Ted Nelson

          I know this isn’t totally fair or even totally relevant/meaningful, but when Nunez was 18 in Staten Island his line was .313/.365/.427…

  • http://www.blogs.thetenthinningstretch.com the tenth inning stretch

    I live in Rochester and my brother played with Cito for 2-3 years on summer travel tournament teams in junior high. It’s cool because I get to brag that my little bro batted cleanup behind a Yankees first-round pick. Anyway, even in his early teen years, Cito reminded me of A-Rod. He’s very fluid defensively, with a strong arm and plus range. He’s actually very solid on the mound, too. At the plate, he wasn’t as disciplined as he is now, but he got great plate coverage and didn’t miss many pitches. He showed power that was advanced for his age, but now looks like it’s more gap power until his frame fills out. He’s got plus speed, but was occasionally prone to getting a but careless on the basepaths. As far as makeup/attitude, he was a loose, Swisher-type personality but, but he inherited his father’s drive and passion for the game. All in all, he’s got great potential and I’m excited to watch his development. I think he’ll make the Yanks’ front office look like geniuses for taking him.

    • AndrewYF

      Would you say he also inherited his father’s inner fire?

      • http://www.blogs.thetenthinningstretch.com the tenth inning stretch

        Yes. Hopefully not the outer fire though.

    • Clay Bellinger

      Cool! Interesting stuff to hear from someone who’s been around the kid.

    • Murakami

      Thanks for the report, tenth.

      I am fortunate to be situated 45 minutes either way to Trenton and Staten Island. I look forward to watching this kid’s development first-hand.

  • Mike HC

    Good write up. Seems like he is a better version of Nunez if everything works out. And a worse version of Jeter, obviously.

  • Yankeescribe

    If ARod and Jeter had a child together he would look like Cito

    • Murakami

      I think ARod and Pena is more correct.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Can I prove that ARod and Jeter didn’t have a child together, and that Cito isn’t that child? No, I cannot.

      /GlennBeck’d

      • Clay Bellinger

        hahahaa…interesting point

      • Murakami

        Even more reason for Jeter to be invested in Cito’s development.

  • vin

    One of the things I loved about this pick was that he was signed immediately. He was able to play every day against the best competition he had ever faced for 2+ months.

    I am curious to see where he begins next year. I believe the plan with Slade was to let him get a couple weeks in Charleston before moving him down to short season ball. Fortunately Slade showed he could hang in A- and never got the demotion. I wonder if they try the same plan out with Cito – challenge him for a couple of weeks and see how he does. But Cito is still a full year younger than Slade was last year.

    • Murakami

      I’m looking forward to seeing more of Heathcott.

      I have been disappointed by his defense. He has a disconcerting habit of getting poor jumps and running around under the ball, much like Brett Gardner does when in CF. Hopefully, he will learn to track balls better and it isn’t just an instinctive flaw.

    • CP

      I think baseball would get a huge boost if they allowed over slot guys to sign right away. That would give an incentive to get guys signed quickly and not lose that first year of development time.

  • http://www.teamnerdrage.com dr mrs the yankee

    Yay prospect profiles :)

    I saw most of Cito’s games when he made it to SI. He is a very raw hitter though he has a very nice eye and plays a good short.

    Other than advanced guys passing by such as Jose Iglesias it’d been a while since I saw someone who was not a disaster at SS in the NYPL.

  • vin

    In the wake of Bill Shannon’s death, and today’s post mentioning Cito’s father, I’ll be sure to take time to test my smoke detectors today. I recommend everyone does as well.

    Scary stuff.

    • http://twitter.com/SteeeeveO Steve O.

      Two different situations. Culver’s father was an arsonist, while Shannon’s was simply a house fire.

      • vin

        Obviously… still dangerous either way is my point.

      • http://www.blogs.thetenthinningstretch.com the tenth inning stretch

        The crazy thing is, Cito’s dad is an awesome dude. Everyone loved and respected him, and he was the smartest, most knowledgeable baseball man and strategist I’ve ever met. Funny, intelligent, quick-witted. Then one day he burns down his estranged wife’s house after trying to lock her inside. We were in total shock.

  • CP

    I find it interesting that Heathcott got labeled as having potential makeup issues because of issues with his parents, while Culver gets labeled as having a great makeup because he overcame issues with his father.

  • Son of Sekhmet

    I think the yanks will be aggressive early with Cito, if he has a good camp they may start him @ Char and see what happens. There is no one in front of him, so I could see the Yanks trying this route.

    • Murakami

      If he’s ready sure. Unfortunate for those of us who would like to get a look at him in short season.

      If he does wind up in Charleston, we can see him in Riverdog away date at Lakewood, NJ. This is where I saw Jose Ramirez last year. What an arm and what a polished young guy.

    • Ted Nelson

      It would depend what he shows this winter/spring, but that’s pretty optimistic… He did about as well as expected in his debut, but you’d hardly say he handled those levels and is ready to advance. Now is probably the time to work with him in extended spring training, rather than pushing him and having to demote him when he’s hitting .100/.250/.200…

  • http://twitter.com/riddering Riddering

    I love prospect profiles so much but at the same time my heart aches to see them appearing already. Just last week there was meaningful baseball…/sob

  • Shaun

    Here’s my prediction with Cito:

    Young Jimmie Rollins bat (minus the strikeouts)

    Elvus Andrus’ defense & basestealing skills (minus the dumbass recklessness)

    Jeter power

    • Clay Bellinger

      sounds like a HOF’er!

    • http://www.retire21.org Mike R. – Retire 21

      Stop! STOP!!!! You had me at Jimmie Rollins.

      /HaroldReynolds’d

  • Jerome S

    I think that the reason the Yankees grabbed Cito early in the draft is because priority #1 has become a SS for the future.

    • L

      I think the early draft picks aren’t based on organizational needs or to fill specific roles, but are soley picks based on the best athletes.

      When the time comes to replace Jeter the front office will be looking at all of their options-available FA’s, trades, and inner-organizational guys. Chances are that we may never see him in pinstripes. For every Jeter or Cano there are dozens of guys that just never make it. How many times have we come super close to losing Montero-and it is still fairly uncertain that he will be a Jorge replacement.

      However, I am excited for Culver, he seems like a good kid and he graduated from the same school that my mom went to. Baseball seasons in upstate NY just aren’t what they are in the rest of the country. I really hope he has what it takes to make it all the way.

  • L

    Great write up, thanks!

    I never knew that he threw that hard or from the left. I’m assuming that he won’t ever pitch again, but I wonder what scouts were saying.

  • Brian in NH

    love it love it LOVE IT!

    can not get enough prospect profiles.

    also would really like to see a kid like this, who by all accounts seems to be a real good kid and a pretty talented (but still raw) player, develop into a solid big leaguer.

  • MikeD

    Culver, 17 — Rookie/Low A: .251 .325 .330 .655
    Jeter, 18 — Rookie/Low A: .210 .311 .314 .626

    Seems quite clear that Culver is better than Jeter, and the Yankees are going to be replacing one of the greatest offensive short stops ever with the modern-day version of Honus Wagner!

    Seriously, let’s hope the kid goes on to have a good career. It was a surprise pick for the Yanks number one, which makes him more fun to follow. People like Keith Law weren’t a fan of the move based on how high Culver was selected, although Law also recently noted that Damon Oppenheimer was one of the better talent evaluators in the game.