Scouting Yankees Prospect #41: Cito Culver

The New York Yankees selected shortstop Cito Culver in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft out of Irondequoit High School in New York. Long lauded for his great defensive abilities, it has been the inconsistent bat that hasn't caught up just yet. The former switch-hitter has been learning to bat exclusively from the right side in an effort to get his offensive game going.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Cito Culver
Position: Shortstop
DOB: August 26, 1992
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 190
Bats: Both
Throws: Right

He hit just .220 with five home runs for the Tampa Yankees last season with a career-high 141 strikeouts. It was his fourth straight season batting .250 or under.

"It was okay, a big learning experience," Culver said of his 2014 campaign. "I thought I took my game to the next level defensively and now I'm working on the offensive side obviously. I'm excited for this upcoming year."

A former switch-hitter, Culver shifted to batting exclusively from the right side in 2013. Making a transition like that isn't easy as some folks believe it to be. A lot of it involves tinkering with swing mechanics, approaches, stances, and other various nuances, and in that regard Culver has been no different.

The constant flux between trying various new things has led his game to be very inconsistent over the past two years and it hit a proverbial wall last season when he hit an abysmal .179 over a two-month stretch.

"With about two months left in our season I got with our hitting coordinator James Rowson and we made a complete overhaul of my swing, my stance, my setup, everything," he revealed. "It was a good change.

"It took me a while to get comfortable with it at first but towards the end of the year I started hitting the ball a lot better. I'm just excited to carry that over into this upcoming year."

When nothing is working it's time to go back to the drawing board and that's exactly what Culver and the Yankees did. They scrapped everything and essentially reinvented everything in his swing.

"In my [previous] setup I was really crouched down [with] my legs really bent and spread out, and I literally went to the exact opposite, stood straight up, narrowed my stance, and it gave a better chance to consistently hit the ball hard," he said. "I've been working on my angle to the ball and it's been working really well.

"It took me about a half a month to get used to the timing of it [all] but towards the end of the year, the last month of the season, is where I felt my best and it's from what me and James did to my swing. I'm really excited about it."

The fact that he hit a much more respectable .267 over the last month of the season with the new swing and clubbed three home runs in those final 28 games [he had just two home runs in his previous 403 at-bats] and a subsequent fine showing at Instructional League this offseason has led to a new air of optimism surrounding his offensive game.

Now two full seasons into batting exclusively from the right side, it has taken a little bit of time for the new swing mechanics to become more natural to him but he says he is starting to feel a lot different at the plate.

"I honestly feel like a completely different hitter up there at the plate with this new approach and this new setup," he said. "It opens me up and allows me to be more athletic and take advantage of my athleticism at the plate. It's been really good.

"The new and improved stance with me is giving me so much more confidence because I'm able to repeat my swing more consistently whereas I wasn't able to before and I was always searching for a way to make myself feel more comfortable at the plate.

"That's what I did the last two months of the season, work real hard on being comfortable and kind of getting back to being an athlete and let my athleticism play because that's a big part of my game."

That athleticism is on display front and center in the field and he's hoping he finally has found a swing that can allow him to become a better offensive player at the plate. As good as he is defensively, he knows what a more consistent offensive game would mean to him.

"I feel like this is the last step. There's always room to grown as a baseball player. The mental side of the game is always going to be a learning experience and I'm always going to try and get better [at everything] each and every day, but this offensive approach I feel is coming around.

"I feel like if I can carry over what I did in the last month of the season into this next year, stick with it and be confident the whole year, the sky is the limit."

Just a career .233 hitter, Culver will be entering his sixth minor league season in 2015. Still just 22 years old, however, while some critics would consider it a do or die season for him, he doesn't exactly approach it that way.

"I think every year is an important year. We're all trying to get to the big leagues. I don't want to say any one year is more important than the previous year because obviously I want to do well every year. But the quicker I can get to the big leagues the better and that's the goal.

"I don't look at it as the most important year coming up. I'm excited about this year more because of the new approach at the plate and all of the work that I put into the offseason leading up to this year. This has probably been my busiest offseason as far as getting into the gym and making sure my body is ready for this upcoming year.

"I would say I'm more excited. I'm not looking at it as a do or die year. I want to play well every year and my goal is to play well every year."

Labeling it a 'do or die' season is just semantics. The fact is he has to step up the offensive production and he knows it. But with a new swing, a new stance, and perhaps more importantly a new air of confidence at the plate, Culver feels different and better equipped to have some better success going forward.

"This is honestly the best I've felt since I came into pro ball. I took a work-like attitude into the offseason. I cleaned up the food, the way I eat, lost some bad weight and then put some good weight back on. I'm excited.

"I want to be the best player I can be whatever that is, that's what I'm shooting for. I want to help my team win, that's the most important thing. The numbers will come, I'm a firm believer in that. I just have to keep working hard and they'll come. I'm really comfortable with where I'm at right now," he concluded.

Year

Team

AVG

AB

2B

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

SO

OBP

SLG

2014 Tampa .220 508 21 5 48 68 12 57 141 .298 .303
2013 Tampa .355 62 5 1 5 13 0 4 14 .394 .484
2013 Charleston .232 410 18 8 29 57 13 48 124 .312 .344
2012 Charleston .215 466 14 2 40 66 22 71 104 .321 .283
2011 Staten Island .250 276 14 2 33 40 10 30 57 .323 .337
2010 Staten Island .186 43 1 0 0 2 1 8 10 .340 .209
2010 GCL Yankees .269 160 7 2 18 21 6 13 41 .320 .363


Batting and Power. Putting his mechanics aside for a moment, at his core Culver has the basic foundation in place to be a solid hitter; excellent hand-eye coordination, good bat speed, a patient approach, a willingness to draw walks, and moderate power potential. His biggest problem to date has been finding and sticking to a consistent swing path over the years, particularly one that allows him to handle outside pitches better. The constant tweaking of his mechanics has led to some real lack of confidence at the plate and hasn't allowed him to feel comfortable either. More than anything he just needs to find something that is comfortable and stick with it.

Base Running and Speed. Culver has always been more of an average runner speed-wise. He doesn't have the plus speed to be an ideal base stealer but he is quite intelligent on the bases paths and he excels as a station to station runner. Should he get on base more consistently, he does have the wheels to be a perennial 20-stolen base threat each year.

Defense. Culver is a difference-maker in the field. Possessing plus arm strength, an innate feel to position himself correctly in the field, and above average range, there isn't a play he can't make. He is a Gold Glove caliber defender, plain and simple.

Projection. With game-changing defensive abilities, Culver doesn't need to be an impact hitter to fulfill his potential as a big leagues starting shortstop, especially given his average power and speed combination, and his willingness to take walks. He does, however, need to be a more consistent hitter overall to tap that kind of ceiling and that remains a wait and see proposition. The ceiling isn't very vast given his offensive struggles but he has enough requisite game to potentially slide in at the bottom third of a big league lineup. He has the kind of special defensive game that most managers could live with some offensive inconsistencies just to get his glove in the field on a daily basis.

ETA. 2016. Culver isn't necessarily deserving of a promotion based on his numbers last year but he is starting to get pushed up by some quality shortstop prospects coming up behind him. He should seem significant time in Double-A Trenton this coming season with the hope that the bat will finally begin to emerge some.


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