Thinking about Cito Culver

The backlash against the selection of Cito Culver in the 1st round in the 2010 MLB draft was pretty severe, as he wasn’t on any mainstream prospect evaluator’s radar as a 1st round candidate.  The early scouting reports didn’t sound much like a 1st-round prospect, describing him as a future defense-first shortstop with his arm representing his only potential plus tool.  There were concerns about his ability to switch-hit in the future, as well as a lack of power projection.  If these scouting reports were to be believed, it wouldn’t sound like Culver had the ceiling that one would expect from a 1st-round high school prospect.  Since Culver is a shortstop, there was concern that the Yankees were drafting for need and going cheap rather than taking a big bonus baby with their pick.

For those of us who trust the Yankee front office, there is plenty of room for optimism.  First is the hope that the Yankees simply had a better read on a local (well, Rochester) kid that most scouts had not seen very much of prior to the draft, and that they obviously liked what they saw.  Second is Culver’s age, which as I wrote about previously, has been shown to historically cause young high school hitters to be underrated.  Drafted at 17  and playing a full season in the New York-Penn League at 18, Culver has more type to develop physically and improve his tools than your typical high school draftee, but also has a fair amount of professional experience.

Culver’s results so far have done little to mollify his critics, particularly about his offensive projection.  He has not broken a .700 OPS, and has managed only 4 home runs in 125 career games.  On the bright side has shown some base-stealing ability, swiping 10 in Staten Island last year without being caught once.  He has also shown solid plate discipline for such a young player, walking in about 10% of his plate appearances.  Considering that Culver was the age of many players who were drafted a year later, the fact that he is not being totally overmatched at this level is worthy of note.

Looking ahead to 2012, Culver will make his full-season debut as the shortstop of a star-studded Charleston team.  Once again, he (along with Angelo Gumbs) will likely be one of the youngest players in the league.  From a statistical perspective, my expectations for Culver are not exceptionally high.  If he can continue to maintain a disciplined approach at the plate and not be overmatched by Sally League pitching, I will consider it progress even if his offensive production is middling.

At a certain point I will want to see him hit for a higher average and show a little more pop, but I don’t think he is at the point where failure to improve his performance will kill his prospect status.  Young as he is, especially coming out of an area that is not exactly a baseball hotbed, I am going to give him a bit of a longer rope before I come close to writing him off as a failure.  2012 should be a challenging season for Culver, but I am hopeful he can rise to the occasion and begin to justify the risk that the Yankees took in drafting him so high.

Update:  As Yankee10570 points out in the comment section, Cito did just tweet about having an MRI today.  Hopefully this is nothing serious, but I’m sure we’ll hear more as things develop.

Update:  All is well

11 thoughts on “Thinking about Cito Culver

  1. Even a good front office/scouting department makes mistakes, and picking Culver in the first round was one. Nick Castelanos, a much more highly regarded prospect, was still on the board, and I have maintained since then that he was the smarter pick. I believe Culver would still have been available when the Yankees next selected, but even had he not been I would be much happier with Castelanos/Gumbs than Culver/Gumbs. Culver just doesn’t show the skill set one likes to see when an organization decides to go against the consensus among prospect watchers and scouts.

  2. The point is not that Culver may not become a good player, he may. The argument is that he could have been drafted later on (Bichette may have been available in Stafford’s spot, for instance) and that a guy like Ranaudo – a local product, already at High A as a 22 year old – could have been added there. Now its not falsifiable, all it would have taken would have been for one team between their first round pick and their next one (82 or 112) to like Culver. But that seems somewhat unlikely. Maybe the Yanks are on a budget, maybe they’re trying to outsmart everyone else. But prior to the CBA changes it seemed to be a good way to utilize a comparative advantage.

    • Understood, but if they really liked Culver perhaps they weren’t willing to risk losing him, and didn’t like the alternatives enough. A lot of people wanted Ranaudo, but he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in the minors. 22 in high A is not especially impressive, and there have been a lot of less than complimentary reports about him.

      • Ranaudo finished his first pro season at High A, something that even a lot of our college relief prospects don’t do. Castellanos works too, 19 with a .312/.367/.436 line in A ball, already on a lot of Top 100 lists. Its not that every bonus baby is going to succeed, but I don’t think its coincidence or confirmation bias that they seem to have a higher success rate than slot bonuses.

        • Fair enough, though I think comparing Ranaudo to a mid-round college reliever doesn’t exactly support his status as a great pitching prospect. I have read a bunch of negative reports on him this season, though he certainly has time to improve.

          I would’ve loved Castellanos, and still like him. He has a great bat, though I have heard questions about whether he can hack it defensively at 3rd (if he has to move to 1st, his bat won’t be nearly as valuable).

          I think the bonus demands played a role in this one. Either they didn’t think he was signable at all, or did not think he was worth the price he demanded. It’s also possible that they may not have had room in the draft budget for both Castellanos and Mason Williams.

          It’s definitely easy to second-guess in the draft, but let’s be patient with Culver and see what he can do.

  3. Well the talk is bixhette probably would nit have been there at the Stafford spot. And fact is ss is a very tough spot to fill. The Yankees have pretty clearly priiritized make up and work ethic lately. Its possible that their internal research suggests that this is the main factor needs for success for kids drafted out of the elite talent picks (usually 15 Max). So the Yankees took a real young mud with makeup and ethic that has always been lauded. And MOST of the defensively reports now admit they we
    wrong and that Culver is a plus defender (klaw of course refuses to ever admolit he may have erred. I like him but that aspect turns me off

  4. Pressed post before i was done.
    Anyway so now we have a strong defensively catcher with good discipline, a great work ethic, enough speed to steal 20 bases and goo efficiency. If Culver can develop enough of a hit tool to hit 265-270. You would have a 265/345 20 sb above average defending sh shortstop.

    If you really believe in a kid draft him. So far the ridiculous hyperbole and teeth gnashing over this pick is looking laughably and demonstrably overblown. If a different 17 yo ss with a better BA ranking demonstrated this Fielding and running skills and showed this plate discipline with these results so early he would be universally lauded as a kid on his way to a future ml regular career. Ill take it. Sometimes consensus is a straight jacket

    • .660 OPS in his second year of short season, that’s not really impressive at any age. He seems to be a decent fielder, but nobody is confusing him for Ozzie Smith, and 10 steals isn’t keeping opposing catchers up at night. If he was a tenth rounder with that CV nobody would be drooling. Angelo Gumbs had an OPS almost .080 higher with speed, playing a premium defensive position, and he’s actually below Culver on most prospect lists, arguably for no other reason than that Culver was a first rounder.

  5. The thing I remmeber aboutu Castellanos was that he had a full ride to UM and was really considering going there. Maybe he scared the yankees and a lot of the teams away. Yanks were probably looking for signabiity