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.
Gary Sanchez, whose August and September this past season will go down in history for the power numbers that he produced, finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting on Monday to Michael Fulmer of the Detroit Tigers. When he was called up in the beginning of August he became the primary catcher and Brian McCann primarily switched to designated hitter.
Sanchez was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on August 3 (he played in one game on May 13) and even though he only played in the last two months he still had a very impressive .299 average with 20 homers, 42 RBI, .376 on-base percentage, .657 slugging percentage, 1.033 OPS and a 3.0 Wins Above Replacement. His 3.0 WAR was 1st in the American League among catchers, his 20 homers were second most in the AL at his position, his 12 doubles were tied for 12 most in the league and his slugging percentage was best in the league among catchers.
The 23-year-old was nearly the back-up catcher to begin the season but the Yankees decided to go with Austin Romine instead so that Sanchez could continue to improve behind the plate. The native of the Dominican who signed with the Yankees as an international free agent when he was 16 will go down in the baseball record books for being the fastest player to reach 19 homers in the modern era of baseball.
On September 21, he hit his 18th and 19th homers in his 45th game of his career. He slugged his 20th homer on September 27, against the Boston Red Sox, to help the Yankees win the first game of the series 6-4. Sanchez also became the first player in Major League Baseball history to have at least 11 homers and 31 hits in his first 23 career games.
Sanchez hit .389 with 11 homers and 21 RBI in his 24 games during the month of August. He was twice named American League Player of the Week during August and was also named and was also voted the leagues rookie and player of the month for August.
“Shoot, if Babe Ruth was hitting behind (Sanchez), you’d intentionally walk him,” Mark Teixeira said. “He’s as hot as any player I’ve ever played with in my entire career. You just don’t see guys doing what he’s doing.”
“The Kraken” is the first Yankees catcher in the 113-year history of the franchise to win rookie of the month or player of the month. The last AL player to win rookie of the month and player of the month in the same month was Jose Abreu of the White Sox in July of 2014. The last AL catcher to be named player of the month before Sanchez was Joe Mauer of the Twins in May of 2009.
He recorded his first hit in his first game on August 3 off of Hansel Robles of the Mets. On August 10, he went a very impressive 4-5 and hit his first MLB home run. Six days later, against the Blue Jays, he had his first two home run game. During August and September he drove in two or more runs 12 times, and on September 21 he drove in five runs and scored a career-high three runs against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Sanchez is only the third Yankee to hit 20 homers after August 1. The other two are Hall of Famers Babe Ruth (he did in in 1927) and Roger Maris (he did the feat in 1961). Ruth and Maris both hit single season homer records when they hit 20 after the beginning of August. Another amazing accomplishment that Sanchez had was hitting eight homers in 11 games during September.
August 3 was the third time that he had been called up, but he only had two at-bats in October of 2015 and four at-bats on May 13 of 2016. The Yankees’ #2 prospect after the 2015 season who has always been known for his offense was really able to improve his defense in the first four months of the year at Triple-A. He threw out 41 percent of base stealers in 2016 with the Yankees because of his strong and accurate arm and had a fielding percentage of .991. McCann, who finished his 12 MLB season, threw out only 23 percent of base stealers.
The voting for Rookie of the Year was not close as Fulmer, the major player the Mets sent to the Tigers in the Yoenis Cespedes trade in 2015, got 26 of the 30 first-place votes and four seconds on the 30 ballots. Sanchez finished in second place after getting four first- place votes, 23 second-place votes and two third-place votes. Sanchez definitely would have deserved to finish first after putting up numbers that had never been seen in baseball’s history, but Fulmer won based on how he produced for the whole season.
Fulmer, who made 26 starts for the Tigers, had an impressive 3.06 ERA with one shutout, 132 strikeouts, a 1.119 WHIP and only 42 walks in 159 innings pitched. His performance declined at the end of the season as he allowed three runs or more in five of his last seven starts and six runs in two of those starts, but the voters still thought he should be the Rookie of the Year instead of Sanchez.
It is still remarkable what Sanchez did because he produced his stats after playing in only two of the six months of the season. He was gracious in defeat since he tweeted congrats to Fulmer and said he deserves all the praise that he is getting. The positive is that the Yankees have their catcher for at least the next few years after Sanchez showed what he can do in August and September.
Luis Severino, who allowed five runs in 4.1 innings in his return to the rotation on Tuesday in Boston against the Red Sox, was sent back to Triple-A Scranton to work on his change-up and other pitches on Wednesday. He is only 22, but likely deserved to stay in the rotation because the Red Sox have one of the best offenses in baseball.
Severino had previously made three appearances out of the bullpen before coming back to the rotation after Ivan Nova was traded. In his three games out of the bullpen, Severino threw 8.1 innings, only allowed one hit, not allowing an earned run to go along with 10 strikeouts and three walks. Based on those stats out of the bullpen he deserved to show what he could do as a starter again, but the Yankees were not impressed with his pitch selection.
This is what Joe Girardi had to say about Severino’s performance after the game:
“When we watched last night’s start, his fastball command was not great, his slider was somewhat inconsistent – and granted, he’s facing a really difficult lineup – and he didn’t throw many changeups,” Joe Girardi said. “We really want to finish him off. I think to get through lineups a third time, which you want all your pitchers to be able to do, a kid with stuff like that, you need to have a third pitch.”
In Severino’s 10 starts with the RailRiders between May 13 and July 27, he had a very good 3.25 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, seven wins, a .223 batting average against, 57 strikeouts, and 15 walks in 63.2 innings. He allowed only two runs in three of his last five starts before being called back up to the Yankees, which included a six-inning start where he allowed two runs, five hits and struck out an impressive 11 batters in his start July 20.
When he goes back to the RailRiders he will need to work on his fastball command and make his slider much more consistent. He will also need to get more confident in throwing his changeup as he only threw two or three. If he can improve his change and have more confidence in it that will allow him to have a third pitch he can rely on.
Severino did say after the game that he used to have more confidence in his change.
“I’m not throwing it a lot because I don’t have the same confidence I had two years ago,” Severino said. “I have to figure it out and come back. It’s difficult to be a starter with two pitches, so I have to work.”
He will likely be brought back up to the Yankees once rosters expand on September 1, and will look to be able to have the dominance as a starter that he had in the last two months of last season. He proved that he can have a lot of success against major league hitters in his 11 starts last season, but he will now need to prove he can again as the rest of the league now has more of a scouting report on him.
From the beginning of August until the beginning of October (11 starts), Severino had an excellent 2.89 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 22 walks and 56 strikeouts in 62.1 innings. He allowed two runs or less in eight of his 11 starts. He also struck out five batters or more in seven of his 11 starts.
His main weakness was that he walked six batters or more in six of his starts. He was able to prevent those walks from doing too much damage as he allowed less than three runs in three of those starts, but walks usually have a way of hurting a pitcher. Severino had much better control when he pitched for the RailRiders earlier this season as he allowed one or zero walks in five of his last six starts.
It seems like it would have made more sense to have Severino work through his pitch selection and improve his secondary pitches with the Yankees he is one of the young players that the Yankees want to evaluate. Sending Severino back down to Triple-A would have made more sense if the Yankees were facing the Tampa Bay Rays, who have scored the second fewest runs in the AL (454), but the Red Sox lead the league in runs scored with 603.
Another reason that this move doesn’t make sense is that Chad Green or whoever replaces Severino is not the pitcher that Severino is. However, if he is able to feel more comfortable relying on his change, improve his fastball command and make his slider more consistent in the next 2.5 weeks, then it would have been a very productive time spent in Triple-A.
Based on how Severino performs the rest of the season the Yankees will know what they have in him and if he makes more sense in the future as a relief pitcher or starter. Even though he has allowed more than three runs in five of his eight starts this season, he still has his 11 starts from last season, and can prove in September that he can be a productive starting pitcher going forward if he can make some adjustments.
The backup catcher competition was one of the major position battles of spring training for the Yankees. It seems like with the 23-year-old Gary Sanchez being sent to Triple-A late last week that the 27-year-old Austin Romine will start the season in the Bronx.
Sanchez, who only had one hit in 21 at-bats in 13 spring training games before being sent to minor league camp, was likely putting too much pressure on himself. He has been in the Yankees minor league system since he was drafted when he was 17 out of the Dominican Republic and is thought of as being the next Yankees starting catcher after Brian McCann‘s contract is finished after the 2018 season.
Sanchez played well at Triple-A and in the Arizona Fall League (AZFL). He had a .295 (132 at-bats) average with six homers, 17 runs scored, 26 RBI and a .500 slugging percentage in 35 games with Triple-A Scranton to end last season. Also, as one of the team’s top prospects, he played in the AZFL, and he had a .295 average (88 at-bats) with seven homers, six doubles, four steals, 21 RBI and a .625 slugging percentage in 22 games for the Surprise Saguaros. He hit the most homers on his AZFL team and his RBI total was tied for the team lead.
However, even though he performed well offensively with Scranton and in Arizona, it makes sense that he will be starting the 2016 season with Triple-A. His weakness is his defense and Sanchez will be able to better improve his mechanics behind the plate by playing everyday with the RailRiders than once a week with the Yankees.
Another factor that has caused his development to take longer is that in the 2014 season the Double-A Trenton Thunder manager Tony Franklin benched him multiple times to discipline him because of his behavior.
“That benching was the low point of his career, it was his rock-bottom,” a team executive told Pinstriped Prospects. “He has come a long way in the last year and a half, his attitude has seen a drastic improvement and it has allowed him to grow as a player and a person.” It is a plus that his attitude has drastically improve but it can only help for him to continue to improve his leadership abilities as a catcher at Triple-A.
Sanchez has greatly improved defensively in the last few years but there is still some room to grow. He allowed a very high career-worst 26 passed balls in 2011 for Single-A Charleston, but with determination he was able to bring that number down to only two in 2015.
Sanchez, who is 6-2 and 230 pounds, allowed fewer errors last season than he did in 2014, proving his defense is getting better, but his skills behind the plate still need some more refining. He had 17 for Double-A Trenton in 2014, but with Double-A and Triple-A combined in 2015 he had 10 errors. In comparison, John Ryan Murphy, who was the Yankees backup catcher last season, only had three errors in 2015 and in 46 starts for Triple-A in 2014, he only had two errors.
Another benefit of Sanchez beginning the season at the Triple-A level is that 35 days in the minors this season will delay Sanchez’s free agency by another year. That is significant because five weeks with the RailRiders could equal control of Sanchez’s age 29 season in 2022.
Romine, on the other hand, performed better in spring training than Sanchez did. Romine had seven hits in 27 at-bats (.259) with five RBI and four doubles. He had two and 13 at-bats respectively the last two seasons, but in 2013, Romine had a .207 average in 135 at-bats with only one homer, 10 RBI and a .296 slugging percentage. He had 37 strikeouts and eight walks.
However, the California native who was drafted by the Yankees in 2007 is more known for his defense and if he can hit about .240 or .250 then he can be serviceable as the backup catcher. He has experience being the backup from his 60 games in 2013 and will be a catcher that most of the pitchers have experience with. Romine was out of options and couldn’t be sent to Triple-A out of spring training, which means that the team’s depth at the catcher position would have been hurt if Sanchez had opened the year in the Bronx.
Sanchez will likely serve an important role at some point this season once his defense improves. His bat is likely already ready and when the Yankees feel that his skills behind the plate are on par he could be able to win some games with his offense, and there are not many backup catchers who are potent offensively as he is. Sanchez slugged 25 homers in 119 minor league games last season, which proves how much power he has.
Greg Bird, who was ranked the #4 prospect by Baseball America in the Yankees organization after the 2014 season, was called up from Triple-A this afternoon. Relief pitcher Nick Goody has been sent back down to the RailRiders.
Since Garrett Jones was recently designated for assignment for the second time, Bird will be a back-up to Mark Teixeira at first base and be able to give Alex Rodriguez days off at DH. Teixeira has a .175 average in 12 August games and Rodriguez has a .162 average with two RBIs in his 12 games in August. This proves that they need more days off until they can figure out their swing.
Bird was the Yankees 5th round selection back in 2011 out of Grandview High School in Colorado. Bird is definitely capable of being productive offensively based on his stats in the minors.
He hit .277/.356/.469 with 12 homers and 52 RBIs in 83 games combined with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton this season. He had a .258 average with Trenton but was called up to Scranton after improving his average. In 34 games at the more challenging Triple-A Scranton level, his .301 average with six homers and 23 RBIs proved that he was ready to try to help the struggling major league offense.
The Yankees, who are 61-51 and a game behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East, have lost six of their last seven games and have only scored nine runs in those seven games, which proves that it was time to call up their top Triple-A first baseman. This is the lineup for tonight’s series finale against the last place Indians.
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Brett Gardner LF
Alex Rodriguez DH
Carlos Beltran RF
Brian McCann C
Chase Headley 3B
Greg Bird 1B
Didi Gregorius SS
Stephen Drew 2B
After going 6-4 on their 10-game road trip and having an off day on Monday, the Yankees have a six-game homestand, which includes three games against the Boston Red Sox and then three games against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays added David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins before the trade deadline, which makes it very likely that they will be able to secure a wild card spot.
Luis Severino will make his major league debut on Wednesday against the Yankees rivals. The rivalry doesn’t have as much meaning this season since the Red Sox are in last place and not playing for anything, but he will still be pitching his first game in a pressurized situation. He has obviously proved that he is ready since the 21-year-old phenom had a 1.91 ERA in 61.1 innings for Triple-A Scranton this season with a 7-0 record, 50 strikeouts, 17 walks and zero homers allowed.
The Yankees need production from him with Michael Pineda on the 15-day disabled list. The Red Sox have somewhat underachieved offensively as they are eighth out of 15 teams in the AL in runs scored, ninth out of 15 teams in homers and eighth in the league in RBIs.
The Yankees 18-8 record and 5.7 runs per game since July 1 are both best in Major League Baseball. There is a good chance that they can continue to put a high amount of runs on the scoreboard against the Red Sox since their 4.52 team ERA is second worst in the American League. Their pitching staff also has the fourth worst batting average against (.266) in the league.
The Red Sox currently have a -65 run differential and their 47-59 record puts them 13 games behind the Yankees in the AL East. Here are the pitching matchups for the series against the Red Sox in the Bronx.
RHP Masahiro Tanaka (7-4, 3.80)
LHP Henry Owens (MLB debut)
7:05 p.m. YES Network and MLB Network
RHP Luis Severino (MLB debut)
RHP Steven Wright (4-4, 4.53)
7:05 p.m., YES Network and ESPN
LHP CC Sabathia (4-8, 5.54)
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (6-3, 4.34)
7:05 p.m., YES Network and MLB Network
Luis Severino, who was the Yankees No. 1 ranked prospect after the 2014 season according to Baseball America, will make his Major League debut with the team on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox. Also, according to Baseball America, he was the No. 35 prospect in all of baseball after the 2014 season. He will be pitching against the team’s biggest rival in his very first start, which means that he will be challenged even more than usual.
He is a 21-year-old from the Dominican Republic who has skyrocketed through the minor league system. In eight starts with Double-A and 11 starts with Triple-A Scranton this season, he has a 2.45 ERA in 99.1 innings with 91 strikeouts, a 0.997 WHIP, 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings and only two homers allowed. In his 11 starts since being called up to the more challenging Triple-A RailRiders his stats have improved as he had a 1.91 ERA, .0929 WHIP, 50 strikeouts and zero homers allowed. His batting average against with the RailRiders was a remarkable .184.
Severino, who is 6’0″ and 195 lb., has a similar build and delivery to Yordano Verntura of the Kansas City Royals. According to Dan Weigel, Severino stands tall through his motion and features a high 3/4 arm slot. “This allows him go generate good place when he works down in the zone. Severino generates momentum through a quirky leg kick and explosive hips and ghen transfers it well to his loose arm which features plus armspeed.”
A spot was opened up in the rotation as a result of Michael Pineda going on the 15-day disabled list with a right flexor forearm muscle strain on Thursday. That was the same day that he was expected to make his next start. In his previous start against the Twins, Pineda did not pitch well as he allowed five runs in 5.2 innings pitched. Based on other pitchers who have had this injury it is likely that Pineda will be out for about a month. He will not throw a baseball for 7-10 days.
He will have the chance to pitch at Yankee Stadium more times than not because the Yankees play 33 games at home the rest of the season and only 24 games on the road. This is also a plus for the team as a whole because the Yankees are 30-17 at home this season and are a mediocre 28-28 on the road.
General Manager Brian Cashman said recently that Severino will not have an innings limit this season, which could mean that CC Sabathia will be moved to the bullpen when Pineda returns to the rotation in about the beginning of September. “Severino will have no innings limit,” Cashman said. “They prepared early in the season so he would be ready for this.”
After losing Saturday’s game 8-2 in Chicago to the White Sox they play the series finale today at 2:10 p.m. They currently have a five-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the AL East.