Name: Nathan Culp
DOB: October 9, 1984
The 2008 season marked the first time since he was drafted in 2006 that Culp did not receive a mid-season promotion. It would be wrong to assume, however, that Culp wasn't effective again this past season.
After going 5-4 with a 4.81 ERA in his first taste of the California League last season, Culp was back with the Lake Elsinore Storm in '08.
Averaging nearly six innings per start, the left-hander went 14-8 with a 3.83 ERA in his repeat performance. While the hit tally was high, Culp is at his best when the opposition is putting the ball in play – particular when he is getting ground balls.
So, while the opposition managed a .296 average, he didn't walk many (23 in 157.1 innings) and also induced 19 double play grounders.
Consistency has been the key for Culp. Every fifth day, the manager has a feeling of what he is going to get. He allowed two runs or less in 12 of his 26 starts and went at least six innings on 16 occasions.
"Pitching in the Cal league is pretty tough just because the infields are hard and things like that," former Lake Elsinore pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said. "For a year and a half, two years now, he's been a mainstay. He's a guy you can count on every time out to give you at least six, get you into the seventh inning and keep you in the ballgame. That's why his numbers have been the way they've been.
"Obviously, you would love to have an All-Star infield behind him, or behind anybody, but he will definitely benefit with better infield play down the road, as he continues to move and gets away from playing on some of these cement infields that we have in the Cal league. But, he's just been so consistent with all of his pitches and keeping us in the game. Any time you get into the sixth and seventh inning, you've got a chance to win a lot of them and he has."
He has traditionally been a slow starter that might need to get through a lineup once before settling in. With five pitches at his disposal, he is able to keep hitters guessing as he faces them a second and third time through the lineup.
Culp is a backwards pitcher that has outstanding off-speed pitches and a below-average fastball.
His best pitch is a plus curveball that he can get hitters rolling over on. It has heavy action and gets hitters leaning out on their front foot. He uses it selectively when he needs a big pitch or as a pitch to induce a ground ball – as some hitters have a tough time lifting it.
His changeup is also a quality pitch and he offers it up as a varied offering to his fastball. By changing speeds and offering the hitter a different eye level, he can get weak grounders.
Fastball command sets up the rest of his arsenal and getting ahead in the count is one of his trademarks.
Hitters tend to swing early in the count, understanding that the best pitch they might see will be the first one offered.
Culp's fastball tops out at 87-88 mpg and sits in the mid-80s. He has pinpoint control with it and further complicates matters by tossing a cutter that has tailing action away from his glove hand. With hitters timing the fastball, he is able to get ground balls with the pitch while consistently staying low in the zone.
The lefty also sports a show-me slider that is a mix between the curveball and fastball – offering tighter break and less loop.
Setting up hitters is what he does best. He has strong mental aptitude with pitch sequencing to keep hitters guessing. Culp is also a competitor that gets stronger as a game wears on.
"He's kind of a finesse kind of pitcher," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "He doesn't want to blow you away, but he's a competitor. He keeps the ball down and that shows you when he needs to get guys out, he gets them out. Good delivery, good command; he's a guy that knows how to pitch."
Over the last year, Culp has improved his pickoff move and keeps runners closer than in the past. He has varying leg kicks but is at his best when he uses his higher one – as it keeps his mechanics in check. He and his catchers threw out or picked off 7-of-20 runners attempting to steal this past year.
"I think he will make adjustments as he goes along," Lezcano said. "This game is about adjustments. The higher you move and the more you play games against each other, you have to make adjustments. He's one of those kids that makes adjustments all the time and that's his forte, his command and he's a good competitor."
Conclusion: Culp is a lot like Jack Cassel but from the left side. He has a deeper repertoire than most and has hitters pounding the ball into the ground regularly. The theory is if his defense is improved, so will his numbers – as balls just outside of range can be scooped up.
Culp must improve his first three innings to really make a statement. He can get hit hard over the initial frames and needs to do a better job of getting into rhythm early on.
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