Archive for Cito Culver
Last season was not a good one for the Yankees’ farm system, and the team has admitted as much in recent weeks. That doesn’t happen often. Usually clubs will say their system is underrated and all that stuff. The Yankees made some non-personnel changes to their player development system over the winter in an effort to get things back on track, though we’re going to have to wait to if those changes actually work.
That said, the Yankees’ system is unique because it has the potential to get a lot better in 2014. The team is adding what amounts to five first round talents to the organization in 3B Eric Jagielo, OF Aaron Judge, LHP Ian Clarkin (2013′s three first rounders), RHP Ty Hensley (2012′s first rounder), and LHP Manny Banuelos. The first three guys are entering their first full year of professional baseball while Hensley (hip) and Banuelos (elbow) are returning from injury. That’s a lot of talent that was not available for most of last summer.
I think we all know who the obvious breakout prospects are. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Judge or OF Mason Williams or C Gary Sanchez took big steps forward and became top 100 type of prospects. The smaller, unexpected breakouts are the ones that will really help the farm system going forward. Think RHP Shane Greene and C John Ryan Murphy, for example. They were interesting guys who improved and took that big step forward last summer. Who will be this year’s Greene or Murphy? Here are some candidates.
OF Jake Cave
Cave, 21, was the team’s sixth round pick in the 2011 draft, though he missed all of 2012 with a fractured kneecap. He joined Low-A Charleston in mid-April last year and was the team’s best non-1B Greg Bird player, hitting .282/.347/.401 (117 wRC+) with two homers, 18 steals, and a whopping 37 doubles in a tough hitter’s park. The knee, obviously, is fine.
Cave’s breakout potential is built on his all-around game and innate ability to barrel up the ball with his left-handed swing. He’s cut from the OF Slade Heathcott cloth in that he plays very hard — he hurt his knee in a home plate collision — though he is not out of control, and his makeup and work ethic are considered pluses. Cave is really starting to fill out his 6-foot-0 and 180 lb. frame, so some of those doubles could start clearing the fence for homers. I wouldn’t necessarily say he has a chance to become a top prospect, but a strong year at High-A and continued improvement will definitely get him a prominent place on the map.
SS Cito Culver
The Yankees caught a lot of heat for making Culver their first round pick in 2010 and he really hasn’t done anything to justify the selection yet. He struggled so much with the River Dogs in 2012 (75 wRC+) that he decided to stop switch-hitting — Culver made the decision himself and the team went along — sticking to the right side of the plate even though his numbers were better as a left-handed hitter (.642 OPS vs. .508 OPS in 2012). The result: an improved though still not great .248/.322/.362 (100 wRC+) batting line split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa in 2013.
So why is Culver a breakout candidate despite three years of impressive performance? Two reasons. One, he now has a full year of being a right-handed hitter exclusively under his belt. Dropping switch-hitting is easier said than done. Remember, he’d never seen a breaking ball that moves away from him until last season. Two, his age. Culver was drafted at 17 and he will spend almost the entire 2014 minor league season at age 21. He’s several months younger than Jagielo and Judge even though he’s about to entire his fifth pro season and fourth full season.
Is Culver ever going to live up being the 32nd overall pick in the country? Almost certainly not. Is there some hope he may not be a total lost cause? Yes. His defense at shortstop is still solid and that’s pretty big. Scrapping switch-hitting and focusing on the stronger side has already helped his offense and could help even more as he gets comfortable. The bar at shortstop is so impossibly low these days that, even with an 80-85 wRC+, Culver can be league average at the position because of his defense. The decision to stop switch-hitting has kept his career alive.
RHP Brady Lail
I did not rank Lail as one of the organization’s top 30 prospects last month, but he was among the final cuts. I think he might be the most unheralded potentially great prospect in the system. The 20-year-old from Utah was the team’s 18th round pick in 2012, and last year he pitched to a 2.33 ERA (1.64 FIP) with 51 strikeouts, five walks, and zero homers allowed in 54 innings down in the Rookie Gulf Coast League. He was even trusted to make two emergency appearances for High-A Tampa (that were disasters).
Lail’s fastball sat in the upper-80s when he was drafted but that has ticked up into the low-90s thanks to pro instruction and workouts, and his changeup is improved as well. The pitch was already advanced for a high schooler when he was drafted. His go-to pitch is bat-missing curveball with big break. At 6-foot-2 and 175 lbs., Lail was a classic projection pick who the team hopes will get better and better and he fills out and gains more experience. What sets him apart is his three-pitch mix and his ability to throw strikes, a combination that a) overwhelmed rookie ball hitters, and b) isn’t all that common among pitchers from cold weather states.
RHP Bryan Mitchell
I’m pretty sure I’m going to continue listing Mitchell as a possible breakout prospect every year until he either breaks out or flames out. It feels like the 22-year-old has had the same statistical season every year since being drafted in 16th round of the 2009 draft, but he did cut his walk rate from 13.6% in 2012 to 9.0% in 2013. It’s a sign of progress and I’ll take it.
Mitchell’s breakout potential stems from his fastball-curveball combination, which might be the best two-pitch mix in the organization. His heater sits in the mid-90s and will touch 97 while the curveball is a low-80s hammer, rivaled only by David Robertson‘s in the entire organization. Can he ever put it all together by throwing strikes with his fastball and getting the curveball down and out of the zone for consistent swings and misses? I hope so. As I said earlier, Mitchell is a breakout candidate until either breaks out of flames out. The stuff is simply too good.
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More than anything, the Yankees need their current top prospects to perform like top prospects. Heathcott, Banuelos, Hensley, and OF Tyler Austin have to stay healthy. Jagielo, Clarkin, Judge, 2B Gosuke Katoh, SS Abi Avelino, RHP Luis Severino, and 3B Miguel Andujar have to have strong years in their first full pro season this summer. Will all of that happen? No, of course not. Most of those guys will flame out. But if a few of them can make some progress in 2014 while someone like Cave and/or Lail breaks out, the system will be much better off next spring than it is right now.
- RHP Jose Campos showed “reduced stuff and an arm action that seems destined for further injuries or a role in the bullpen.” He settled at 89-92 with below-average command, pretty much the opposite of what made his such an exciting prospect a year ago. His breaking ball and changeup are still works in progress. “This was far from an ideal look,” said Law, acknowledging Campos missed basically all of last year due to injury, “but what I saw didn’t give me a ton of hope.”
- 3B Dante Bichette Jr. is “a mess on both sides of the ball,” and Law said SS Cito Culver was “running worse than I’ve ever seen from him.” 1B Greg Bird “didn’t seem to be able to pick up anything” at the plate.
- OF Yeicok Calderon has “bat speed and a strong arm, but his hands are all over the place at the plate and the Augusta pitchers blew him up with velocity.”
- LHP Evan Rutckyj sat in the 89-91 range with a “fringy changeup and a slider at 80-82 that might give him a chance in middle relief.”
The great Josh Norris posted a collection of quotes from a scout on various members of this year’s Low-A Charleston roster this afternoon. The scout sung the praises of C Gary Sanchez and OF Mason Williams, but wasn’t a fan of either OF Tyler Austin or SS Cito Culver. It a short but fun read, so make sure you give it a click.
The Yankees made Cito Culver a surprise first round pick in 2010, and the 19-year-old shortstop hasn’t exactly justified their faith in him yet. He does lead the farm system in walks (60), but otherwise he’s hit just .222/.330/.297 (80 wRC+) in 444 plate appearances for Low-A Charleston this season. Over at FanGraphs, Mike Newman provided a scouting report after seeing Cito recently and as you probably suspect, it’s not all that positive. He notes that Culver is solid on defense but can’t really hit, particularly from the left side of the plate.
Newman does make a case for converting the Rochester native into a pitcher — he was 92-93 off the mound in high school — but I’m not sure I’m on board with that. Culver can still play shortstop and there’s value in that, plus he shows plate discipline and a solid approach at the plate. Perhaps some more physical development leads to more production at the plate. Hitter-to-pitcher conversions aren’t the most uncommon thing in the world, even after long layoffs. Another year like this and I’ll probably be singing a different tune. Here are Newman’s scouting reports on Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, Gary Sanchez, and Angelo Gumbs.
You may have missed them over the holiday weekend, but Josh Norris published a series of short posts with quotes from scouts about various Yankees’ prospects. Among the players covered are system headliners Jesus Montero (“He might be Miguel Cabrera”), Manny Banuelos (“I think he’s the real deal”), Mason Williams (“an above-average major league center field profile”), and Dellin Betances (“he’s going to be a bullpen guy”). Corban Joseph, Angelo Gumbs, Cito Culver, Branden Pinder, and personal fave Bryan Mitchell were covered as well, and Norris also posted an interview with Adam Warren. They’re all quick reads and get RAB’s highest level of recommendation, so check ‘em out.
Baseball America’s look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league continued with the Short Season NY-Penn League today, and the Yankees are very well represented. Mason Williams unsurprisingly topped the list, and in the subsciber-only scouting report, they say he “stays through the ball well with a simple lefthanded swing.” His “quick hands generate surprising bat speed,” which should allow for average power down the road. “Williams has plus to plus-plus speed that plays on the bases and in center field, though he’s still refining his basestealing ability and his outfield routes,” they added. “He has a solid-average arm and projects as a plus defender in center fielder.”
Cito Culver, the team’s first round pick last year, placed sixth. “He stood out most with his defense, showing smooth actions, average range and a well above-average arm at shortstop,” said the write-up, which also backed up previous reports that he’s a switch-hitter but better from the right side. Tyler Austin was two spots behind Culver at number eight, and is lauded for his plate discipline and ability to handle offspeed stuff. “He has above-average raw power and is capable of hitting balls out of the park to all fields,” said BA. The move to third base (from behind the plate) has been successful so far, but they note that Austin has to improve his footwork and become more aggressive.
Ranking 14th is Angelo Gumbs, last year’s second rounder. “[An] athletic, high-energy player with electric bat speed and a quality all-around toolset,” Gumbs has the bat speed and strength to hit for good power. A former shortstop and centerfielder, he’s working on learning second base, though some think he’d be better off in the outfield because his strong arm is a waste on the right side of the infield. The fifth and final Yankee farmhand on the list is Branden Pinder, a 16th rounder this year that ranked 19th on the list. “He streamlined his repertoire in a relief role, attacking hitters with a lively 93-94 mph fastball that topped out at 96.” Pinder is also said to have a sharp slider and a long delivery with good deception.
Very nice showing for the Baby Bombers, who won their league title this year. The next top 20 list of interest to the Yankees is the Low-A South Atlantic League, which will be revealed on Wednesday. I’m not sure if Slade Heathcott, Rob Segedin, and J.R. Murphy spend enough time with Charleston to qualify for the list, but Gary Sanchez, Ramon Flores, Nik Turley, and Tommy Kahnle all have a chance to make an appearance.
MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ran around to each camp in Spring Training to speak to all of last year’s first round picks, and today he published his interview with the Yankees’ Cito Culver. The video is a touch over six minutes long but it’s certainly worth watching; the two talk about some changes the Yankees have made to Culver’s stance, his typical day, how he worked out during the bitter Rochester winter, the expectations of being a first rounder, all sorts of stuff. There’s a lot of yes sir’s involved, Cito’s certainly a polite kid. The video is on YouTube but it won’t let you embed it, so you’ll have to click through the link to watch.
I’ve got four questions this week, three of which deal with a current or former Yankees prospect. The other has to do with a guy taking up space in the minors. Remember to send in your questions via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Joe asks: Do you think there is any chance the Yanks keep and develop all of the Killer B’s? I know the odds of all three reaching their ceiling and staying healthy are long, and as you or Joe or Ben said last week don’t fall in love with your prospects, but it be nice to see them all on the big club. What % do you think it will occur?
If you’ve got three pitching prospects of that caliber, my general (and completely amateur) rule of thumb is that one will reach (or at least approach) his ceiling, one will fall short of his ceiling but still be a productive big leaguer, and the third will be a complete bust. The Yankees exceeded that with Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy, turning them into two viable big league starters and a reliever. Look back at the Red Sox five years ago; they got an ace, a reliever, and a bust out of Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, and Craig Hansen.
I’d expect Manny Banuelos to approach his ceiling, Andrew Brackman to fall short of his ceiling but be a useful player, and Dellin Betances to be the complete bust out of the Killer B’s. Nothing personal, it’s just that Dellin’s health record scares me. That said, I fully expect them to trade one of those guys, probably sometime this year. The big league team needs pitching right now, and the Yankees have some high end pitching depth and can afford to move one of those guys.
Of course I’d love to see all three of them stay with the team and flourish in the big leagues, but the odds are so stacked against it. I’d give it less than a 50-50 chance that all three will stay with the Yankees for the next few years, and less than a 5% chance that all three turn into productive players. Prospects will break your heart, the Killer B’s are no different than the hundreds that came before them.
Nicolai asks: If Kei Igawa was blocking somebody from being promoted to Scranton, could the Yankees just send him down to Trenton, Tampa or Charleston?
Yep, absolutely. The Yankees actually sent him all the way down to High-A Tampa for two starts in 2007. Igawa’s not blocking anyone from anything.
A different Joe asks: I was listening to the Yankees game and it was the Tigers radio crew. They claimed A-Jax would be a 15 homer and 40 SB guy this season. I personally don’t see this happening at all. Any thoughts on it?
This year? No way, not in Comerica. Austin Jackson has 17 homers total in his last 1,816 plate appearances dating back to 2007, so I don’t see a sudden spike happening. I could definitely see 15 homers at his peak, maybe even 20, but 2011 is too soon for that. If Jackson did pop double-digit homers this year, that would mean everything went right for him and he even squeezed in an inside-the-parker or three. Of all the projection systems out there, only CAIRO and ZiPS have him hitting more than six homers, and both forecast seven.
I like Jackson and there’s no doubt that he’s an above-average player, but expecting 15 homers out of him this year is a bit much. Even the 40 steals is a bit of a question mark (27 last year), but it’s not as unbelievable as the power numbers. Just for some perspective, only three different players have had a 15-40 season in the last three years, and Carl Crawford was the only one to do it twice.
Anthony asks: What’s the projection for 2010 first rounder Cito Culver as a major leaguer? Does he have the potential to be a solid starter on a high caliber team?
Culver’s long-term value is going to lie mostly in his glovework, which, luckily, is really really good. Is he going to be Derek Jeter? Absolutely not. Is he going to be Cesar Izturis? Eh, maybe. It’s always possible. I think the best case scenario for the Yankees’ 2010 first round pick is an above-average defensive shortstop (probably not Gold Glove caliber though) that hits for average, draws some walks, and steals some bases. Culver doesn’t have much power and doesn’t project to down the road, but he’s switch-hitter with some contact skills, and he did manage to a walk in nearly ten percent of his plate appearances in his pro debut last summer.
If I had to put numbers on it, which I hate doing, I think his offensive ceiling is something like .300/.360/.400, right around a .350 wOBA. Culver also has the speed and skills to steal a healthy amount of bags, maybe even 40+ in his basestealing prime. Stick that at shortstop over 600 plate appearances with say, +4 or +5 run defense, and you’ve got a four win player. Again, that’s not Derek Jeter, but that’s a player good enough to start on a championship team. Of course, Culver has a long, looong way to go to live up to that potential.
Cito Culver | SS
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Baseball America started their annual look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league yesterday, and it continued today with the rookie level Gulf Coast League. Three Yankee farmhands made the cut (no subs. req’d), including Gary Sanchez who ranked as the circuit’s number one prospect. 2010 first rounder Cito Culver placed tenth and Ramon Flores 13th. If you’re a subscriber, you can read the scouting reports here.
Sanchez was noted as having “above-average power to all fields, and with a good approach for a young player, he projects to hit for average as well.” They also wrote the best report of his defense that I’ve seen, saying he “consistently generates 1.8-second pop times [that's really good] and has the tools to be a solid receiver, but he’s still a work in progress defensively.” Culver projects as a shortstop long-term thanks to “good instincts, plus range to both sides and an above-average arm.” Offensively, they say “he does have a knack for squaring up balls from both sides of the plate” with speed and a little bit of power. Flores is lauded for his sweet lefty swing and his developing power. Despite playing both corner outfield spots and first base this year, they project him best in right because of his “average speed and range to go with a strong, accurate arm.”
The series continues tomorrow, but the next list you have to worry about is the Short Season New York-Penn League one that comes out next Tuesday. The only Yankee prospects with a chance to make that list are Eduardo Sosa, Kelvin DeLeon, and Mikey O’Brien, but don’t be shocked if they get shut out. That team was an uninteresting as it gets this season.