Cito Culver, Shortstop
When the Yankees drafted Cito Culver, Yankee fans almost exclusively were party to a collective head scratch. Most of us had never heard of Culver, and had expected the Yankees to draft several consensus first round picks still on the board. Instead, they picked Culver, a seemingly unimpressive shortstop/pitcher from upstate New York. He was projected to go much later in the draft by experts. Culver signed early for under-slot money, started playing, and quickly showed off some impressive skills. The Yankees got their man.
Culver’s scouting report is actually much more robust than we thought during the draft. The Yankees and other observers have commented that he’s flashed even better, more polished defensive skills than they expected. He’s not only going to stick at shortstop, but very quickly become a strong defender at the position. The Yankees have commented that he has some power potential. He is a fast, potential base stealer, and should hit for average. He can dial it up to 95 mph on the mound. And best of all, everyone (including anyone who watches the Youtube clip that I posted above) agrees that he is a mature, intelligent, hard-working individual who looks and talks like a MLB ballplayer at the tender age of 17.
How did a player of this caliber fall to the Yankees at the end of the first round. There are a couple of possibilities. The first is that he’s really not that good. He’s impressed people early on, but other teams may have been less impressed. But the second possibility is much more likely, in my opinion: people just didn’t see him. Baseball scouts don’t normally stroll around upstate New York, and players from that area tend to be underrated and sometimes raw. “Raw” doesn’t seem to describe Culver very well, so underrated is a better explanation. Lots of teams scout their neck of the woods especially hard in order to find unknown gems. The Yankees found their guy.
Its a bit strange to see a high-round or high-bonus guy sign early for the Yankees. I can’t remember the last time our first round pick played a full rookie ball season right after the draft. As such, its easy to look at his performance between the GCL and Staten Island and be disappointed. He hit a fairly poor .251/.320/.363 in the GCL, and had an even worse (though with a much better K/BB ratio) two weeks in the New York-Penn League. But, unlike previous top high schoolers, Culver pretty much went straight from high school to playing professional baseball. The Yankees have a policy where they wait 30 days for new draft picks to play until they start to modify their swing, mechanics, pitching motion, etc. So, he was acting on his upstate New York coaching, and still at least getting a few hits here and there. After a full spring training (and possibly extended spring training), I would expect him to improve on the poor K rate.
I rated him at #14 mostly because of distance from the majors. I may be pretty impressed with everything that I’ve heard about Cito Culver, but he just turned 18 years old. He could certainly rise very quickly if he cuts down on the strikeouts and continues to play strong defense. And if he hits for even moderate power, the sky is the limit. Eventually, the Yankees are going to have to replace Derek Jeter long term. Culver offers the best chance at a decent replacement in a very long time.