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