The Yankees have re-signed Cito Culver, who was selected by the Bronx Bombers with their first round pick in 2010 (32nd overall) and has spent his whole career in the team’s minor league system.
He is a 6-0 infielder who reached Triple-A Scranton for the second consecutive season in 2016. Culver earned the longer promotion to the RailRiders this season after performing much better for the Trenton Thunder than he did in 2015.
He was one of 14 players who were drafted in the first three rounds in 2010 who qualified for minor league free agency in the beginning of November because they signed a minor league Uniform Player Contract in 2010. Those 14 players had not been released from the terms of the UPC.
According to Baseball America, teams can renew a player’s UPC six times before the player is either declared a minor league free agent or his team adds him to the 40-man roster. Culver had not been added to the 40-man since being drafted and had already had his UPC renewed the maximum of six years, which lead to his release.
However, he had not been signed by another organization in the last month an a half so the Yankees decided to sign him again. The move to resign him makes sense because he is reliable and versatile defensively while providing depth at second, shortstop and third in in case of a injury at the major league level. It seems that he could be used as a short term fill in but another higher acclaimed prospect would deserve the chance if needed for an extended amount of time.
In Culver’s 32 games for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders between the 2015 and 2016 seasons, he has a .276 batting average and a .333 on-base percentage. That’s a decent average in a small sample size at the highest minor league level.
He would be a much higher rated prospect and would have moved faster through the minor league levels if he could do more on offense besides hit for a decent average. He strikes out at a rate that is much too high for a middle infielder and he doesn’t hit for any power. Those are the factors that have really held him back.
In 93 games at Double-A Trenton this year, he struck out 98 times (while walking 30 times), which is an average of more than one a game. He did show signs of improvement at Trenton this year with his .252 average in 93 games after having an inept .199 average in 106 games in 2015.
A stat the proves that he does not hit for any significant power is that in the 2015 and 2016 season combined he hit four homers and collected 81 RBI. Most of his RBI came at Double-A Trenton this year when he had 40. Highlights from previous levels include hitting .355 in 16 games for High-A Tampa in 2013 and hitting eight homers for Low-A Charleston in 2013, which was the most he has slugged at any level.
His overall numbers in his seven seasons in the team’s various minor league affiliates are a .232 average in 730 games with 116 doubles, 27 homers, 254 RBI, 293 walks, 708 strikeouts and a low .308 on-base percentage. The positive for Culver is that his offensive numbers at the highest level are better than his overall stats.
In his second and third minor league seasons he received accolades for his defense. He was rated the best defensive infielder and best infield arm in the Yankees system after the 2011 season when he played with short season Staten Island in the NY Penn League. In 2012, when he was 19 and played at Low-A Charleston, he was rated the best defensive infielder and best infield arm once again.
Culver, whose given first name is Christopher, is known for for his defense. He was drafted as a shortstop out of Irondequoit High in Irondequit, which is a suburb of Rochester, NY. He has played various positions in the infield the last two seasons to make him more versatile and valuable defensively. According to Pinstriped Prospects, he played all four infield positions last year with the majority of his playing time coming at second base and shortstop.
Culver was all set and committed to play baseball at the University of Maryland out of high school but after being drafted with 32nd pick, which is the supplemental A section of round one, he signed a contract that was reportedly with $954,000 with the Yankees.
He dreamed of playing in the Bronx when he was a kid who grew up a fan of the Yankees and has a chance at making that dream a reality this season.
“That was something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little kid,” he said to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
Even though he is somewhat of a disappointment after being a high draft pick and not making it to the majors yet, he is still young at 24 and can continue to improve.
“I really like the way he goes about his business,” said RailRiders outfielder Ben Gamel, (who was traded this offseason) the Yankees’ 10th-round pick in 2010 who played his first six MLB games in May. “He plays the game the right way. It’s not an easy game.”
An attribute that is sure to help Culver as he continues to work towards his goal of getting called up to the Yankees is that he has a real passion for baseball.
“I love playing baseball,” Culver said. “I play it every day, I watch it every day, I think about it 24/7. It’s who I am. It’s ingrained in me.”
The Western New York native has overcome adversity in multiple ways. A major obstacle that he had to get through was when his father tragically burned his family’s house on fire in order to try to kill Cito’s mother (his father’s estranged wife) on March 22 (Easter), 2008. This was when Cito was a sophomore in high school. HIs father, Christopher Culver, is still in prison serving a nine-year sentence.
After the incident Cito said that his sisters and his mother became even closer. He was drafted only two years later when he was 17 and found it hard to adjust to living on his own for the first time. He added that it was tough to deal with the stress and pressure of being away from his family but would rely on his new Yankee teammates.
“My teammates; I grew up in the system with Ben Gamel and Mason Williams and Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge,” he said. “What wonderful teammates and even better friends. They helped a bunch.”
Another minor obstacle that he has overcome was growing up in the Rochester area where there are long winters, which is not conducive to baseball. Not many elite baseball players traditionally come out of upstate NY and he is one of them.
The former All-Greater Rochester Player of the Year in 2010 as a senior will keep trying with determination to make his debut at some point this season in the infield with the Yankees.