Name: Nathan Culp
DOB: October 9, 1984
While he lettered three years in golf as a high schooler, Culp went on to become the ace of the Missouri staff. His 11 wins led the team – the next closest netting seven – and his ability to throw strikes led to a 84-to-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 124.1 innings.
One thing he learned along the way was being more efficient with his pitches, pitching to contact and making the hitter make the out – and the reason his professional start was such a success.
"Culp - that combination is intriguing to us," Padres' scouting director Bill "Chief" Gayton said. "I went in and saw Culp in the Big XII tournament. Culp has, probably, very similar stuff (to Brent Carter) but with an additional pitch."
Culp was assigned to the short-season Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League. After just six games, Culp got the call to go to the Low-A Fort Wayne Wizards.
The Illinois native posted a 1.50 ERA over 18 innings of work in Eugene and was adept at retiring the leadoff batter, effectively minimizing any chance for the big inning. Only four of 20 batters reached base to begin an inning.
Thirteen innings into his career, he had not allowed an earned run and only surrendered three such runs during his Northwest League stint.
The portsider made seven starts for the Wizards, mixing in good and bad outings. He won his first three starts, giving up four earned runs over 17 innings – with all four coming in one game – but would give up 15 runs over his next 11 frames before finishing the year off by throwing shutout ball over five innings.
"His fastball runs good," 2006 Fort Wayne pitching coach Tom Bradley said. "His two-seamer runs down and away. He has the moving fastball and pitches in to right-handers pretty good with his four-seamer. He has a cutter, a curveball, which is pretty good and he needs to work on developing his changeup. He will spend a lot of time on it this off-season."
Most of the late season work was a product of tiring as the season wore on. Spotting his pitches has been the motto and there are times when his command is up in the zone, especially when the dog days hit, a place that better hitters feast on.
He is also too hittable and does not finish hitters when he is ahead in the count, trying to be too cute rather than continuing to attack them.
A finesse lefty, Culp regained confidence in his curveball with the Eugene Emeralds after working on the pitch with pitching coach Wally Whitehurst and it became a plus pitch for the southpaw.
He also throws a two-seam that sinks down in the zone and can reach 90 MPH with his fastball, although his velocity was down some while playing for the Padres. The Friars aren't concerned by that, as college pitchers normally see their velocity drop during their first year of professional ball. They expect him to again be touching 90 to 91 MPH sometime this year.
Culp also mixes in a cutter and has been working on finding more consistency with his changeup. The changeup has come in too fast and increasing the splits between the fastball and off-speed pitch will be a critical development in the coming year.
"He has four pitches," Bradley said. "His changeup – he didn't throw it a whole lot in college but worked real hard on it and it did improve some. It is still a little bit too hard but he knows what he has to work on."
On the positive side, Culp can throw each pitch for a strike and mixes his pitches well to keep the opposition off-balance.
Culp understood he wasn't pitching with his best stuff in 2006 – a fact that he believes made him a better pitcher because he had to rely on mixing his pitches effectively and hitting his spots.
"Nate did a very good job for us," 2006 Eugene pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said. "Very bright kid. Very quiet. He throws four pitches for strikes. Very knowledgeable about pitching. (Culp) understands the importance of the changeup, the importance of working ahead in the count. He has a bright future."
His biggest challenge has been following through on his pitches – he does not consistently extend to get the most out of each pitch, and the ball will flatten out when he is short-arming a pitch. He has a repeatable delivery that is very loose and easy, making mechanics and changes easier to come by.
ETA: Culp will begin the year in Fort Wayne. He went into the off-season learning how to deal with the rigors of long season ball with an eye on improving his changeup. That pitch, in particular, will be an essential piece to improving his ability to put away hitters, both lefties and righties, when he is ahead in the count. The curveball was effective last year but hitters began to sit on it and take advantage when it was hanging up in the zone. A solid year will determine his future timetable but odds are he will spend the entire year in Fort Wayne.