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.
Derek Jeter, who is the best shortstop in Yankees history, will have his #2 retired and get a plaque in Monument Park on May 14, which is Mother’s Day. He played his final game with the Yankees at the end of the 2014 season after a career that saw him go to the All-Star game 14 times.
Before their game against the Houston Astros, Mr. November will become the 22nd player in the illustrious history of the Yankees to have his number retired. He played a franchise record 20 seasons with the Yankees and they were all at a high level except his final farewell season.
The Yankees will now not have any single digit numbers left since Billy Martin (#1), Babe Ruth’s (#3), Lou Gehrig (#4), Joe DiMaggio (#5), Joe Torre (#6), Mickey Mantle (#7), Yogi Berra & Bill Dickey (#8) and Roger Maris (#9) all have their numbers retired. They are all in the Hall of Fame except Martin and Jeter will be too in the first year that he is eligible (2020).
Jeter finished his career with four Gold Gloves, the Rookie of the Year award in 19963,465 hits (6th all-time), 1,923 runs scored (11th all-time), 260 homers, 1,311 RBIs, 358 steals, a .310 average, 544 doubles and a .377 on-base percentage. He also finished in the top 10 in MVP voting eight times. In only his third season away from the Yankees, he deserves to have a day at Yankee Stadium dedicated for him where his family and former teammates will be able to support him on the field and he he will be able to give a speech to address everyone at the stadium and watching on TV.
Captain Clutch retired in 2014 with a winning percentage in games that he played in of an excellent .593 and five World Series championships. He is known as a player who would do anything that it took to win on the defensive and offensive side. Jeter tops the Yankees all-time list in hits, games played (2,747), doubles, stolen bases, at-bats (11,195), singles (2,595) and hit-by-pitches (170). While Jeter was playing during his 20-year career, he was always the most popular Yankee and his jersey or shirt would be worn by fans more than any other player’s.
He will be the last member of the Core Four to have their number retired. Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte had their numbers retired in 2015 and Mariano Rivera, who has the most saves in MLB history, had his number retired in 2013 while he was still playing and was given a plaque in Monument Park in August of last season.
Bernie Williams, Jeter’s longtime teammate for 11 seasons, also had his number retired during the 2005 season. He is one of the great Yankee outfielders and helped the team win four World Series titles but the reason he isn’t included in the Core Four is because he wasn’t still on the team when they won the World Series in 2009.
The Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-4, at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night for their fifth win in a row. After the win they gained half a game on the Baltimore Orioles to improve to only two games behind them for the second wild card spot. They also are still four games behind the Boston Red Sox for first place in the AL East.
Everything is clicking right now as the Yankees are playing well on offense and defense. They have scored five runs or more in four of the last five games and have allowed four runs or less in five of the last six games. Also, since the Yankees traded lockdown relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller before the trade deadline, the team is an outstanding 7-0 in one-run games and 3-0 in extra-inning games.
After the win, the Yankees improved the 41-28 at Yankee Stadium and are now a season-high nine games above .500 (74-65). Tyler Austin was the star of the game as he had two hits and his third career homer won the game for the the Bronx Bombers.
Austin hit the walk-off homer on a 3-2 two-seamer after he was up 3-0 in the count. It was an inside out swing for an opposite field homer to left field. He rewarded Joe Girardi’s faith in him since he could have sent in Mark Teixeira to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied at four.
The walk-off homer was the first by a Yankee rookie since Melky Cabrera had one on July 18, 2006. Austin hit his first homer in his first career at-bat on August 3. He thinks his walk-off was a more significant homer.
“That might top the first game up here,” Austin said. “It was a huge team win for us and a special moment.”
“I like the way Austin is swinging the bat,” Girardi said. “He is in the game. A lot of times it is a lot easier if your are in the game. It’s amazing what these kids have been able to do for us. A couple of hits tonight. It is hard to explain.”
Austin has a .245 average this season (13-53 in 17 games) but he has found a lot of success hitting in the Bronx. He has nine hits in 26 at-bats at Yankee Stadium (.346) with three homers, four runs scored and six RBI. He hit his second homer of the season, a two-run blast, in the team’s big 7-6 win over the Blue Jays on Tuesday. In the last five games (all at Yankee Stadium), Austin has been in the zone at the plate as he is 7-16 (.438) with two homers, two doubles and five RBI.
The previous two runs that the Yankees scored were on solo homers by Brian McCann, and one of his homers was a 412-foot round tripper into the suite level. He has found his stroke since the end of August and has improved on offense. In the last 10 games the veteran catcher, who has mainly been the DH since the trade deadline, is 11-37 (.297) with three homers, four runs scored and five RBI.
In the first inning, Didi Gregorius hit a single to score Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury scored after an error by Rays starter Alex Cobb.
CC Sabathia was only able to pitch four innings after being taken out of the game after throwing 87 pitches and allowing three runs on three solo homers. Tampa Bay had seven hits against him in seven innings but the positive was that nobody was on base when the Rays hit their three homers. Two of the three solo blasts were by Kevin Kiermaier with one going to the upper deck. He is 20 for 50 in his last 12 games.
“He made some mistakes,” Girardi said about Sabathia. “Hopefully the shorter outing will refresh him and we will get him going for his next start. He didn’t have his best stuff.”
However, the Yankees bullpen bailed out Sabathia even though Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard and Luis Severino were not available. Jonathan Holder gave the Yankees two solid innings in the fifth and sixth as he allowed one run on two hits and left the game with the score tied at four.
Chasen Shreve, Blake Parker, Kirby Yates and Tommy Layne prevented the Rays from scoring over the final three innings. Everybody on the roster has really stepped up during this stretch and that includes the bullpen. Brian Cashman got Parker and Layne off of waivers and Shreve and Yates have been up and down from Triple-A. Shreve hasn’t allowed an earned run in five of his last six appearances and is pitching with more confidence.
“It is a sign that the moment is not too big for them,” Girardi said in reference to the young players on the team. “You get more faith in them and you understand they can handle the situation.”
The Yankees are a remarkable 52-9 when scoring five or more runs this season. They will look to continue scoring five or more runs during their next three games against the Rays. Sweeping the series will help them gain more ground in the wild card and in the division. They will need help from other teams to make the playoffs, but they are giving themselves a chance with they way they have been playing recently, and it will be possible with all of the games left that they have against teams ahead of them in the standings.
“We have a shot (at the playoffs) and in this game that is what you look forward to,” Girarid said. “I feel better than I did a few weeks ago.”
The 5-2 win that the Yankees had on Sunday afternoon in Baltimore over the Orioles was their most important win of the season. Their win prevented them from being swept by the Orioles, who have the second wild card spot, and improved the Yankees deficit to 3.5 games.
The Yankees have a 70-65 record before Monday’s game are are half a game up on Kansas City Royals, who are 70-66. The Houston Astros are currently two games behind the Orioles and the Detroit Tigers are tied with the Orioles for the second wild card spot. An offensive outburst was needed since the team had not scored a run in the first two games of the series against the Orioles.
“You can’t afford to lose three in a row to these guys,” Girardi said. “We know they play really well in this building. We lost a tough one (Saturday) night. To be able to bounce back is important. It keeps us alive.”
The starting lineup had five rookies in it but the veterans were the ones who drove in all five of the team’s runs.
In the first inning, Chase Headley’s single to left scored Brett Gardner and then backup catcher Austin Romine hit a single to left that scored Headley and Rob Refsnyder. In the third inning, Headley’s infield single to third scored Refsnyder and then the Yankees added an insurance run with Brett Gardner’s sacrifice fly in the ninth inning. The Yankees had six hits in this game, which equals the amount of hits that they had in the previous two games combined.
Refsnyder was 1-2 with two runs scored after getting into his first game since rosters expanded on September 1. He spent the last few weeks with the Triple-A RailRiders, but he now has five hits in his last 10 at-bats with four runs scored.
Chase Headley, who had two big RBI in the first inning, is now 9-24 (.375) with one homer and six RBI in his last seven games. He has performed very well for the Yankees since the first month and a half of the season.
The bullpen really stepped up for the Yankees since the didn’t allow any runs after Michael Pineda was taken out of the game after four innings. In his four innings pitched he threw 87 pitches and allowed five hits, two walks and two runs. Throwing 87 pitches in only four innings is much more than normal.
Luis Severino came in next and continued his dominance as a relief pitcher. He pitched two innings while walking two batters, striking out two, and not allowing a hit. He has really performed well since he has been able to concentrate on his plus fastball and slider while not having to worry about throwing a third pitch (change-up).
Severino has surrendered only one hit in the 40 batters he has faced in relief this season. He has thrown 11.1 innings as a relief pitcher this season and has not allowed an earned run while striking out 13 batters and walking five. That is outstanding and could be a sign that his best role going forward could be as a relief pitcher and not as a starter since he does not really trust his third pitch.
The four other Yankee relief pitchers combined to allow one hit and strike out four. Dellin Betances pitched the final 1.1 innings, after not having appeared in a game since August 31, and picked up his 8th save. He is firing on all cylinders right now since he has pitched in 10 games since August 10, 11.2 innings, and has allowed only one earned run while limiting the opposition to four hits. He has also struck out 18 batters and only walked four in that 10 game span.
The Yankees play a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays from Monday to Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees need to at least win two out of three to stay in the race. It will be a challenging series as Toronto is in first place in the AL East with a 77-59 record.
The Yankees will play their wild card playoff game tonight at 8:00 p.m. against the Astros at Yankee Stadium. If the Yankees win then they will play the Kansas City Royals (95-67) in the American League Division Series since the Royals had the best record in the American League.
Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51 ERA, 0.99 WHIP), who allowed four runs in five innings against the Red Sox in his last start on September 30, will take the mound for the Yankees to begin tonight’s crucial game. Tanaka’s sub-par performance during his previous start might have been because he was rusty after not having pitched in the previous 12 days. Tanaka will have to keep the ball down in the zone and have his plus splitter tonight against the Astros.
Tanaka is the team’s ace and in his three starts before September 30, he allowed three runs combined while striking out 21 and only walking one batter. On September 13 against the powerful Toronto Blue Jays lineup, who scored the most runs in all of baseball, he threw a shutout in seven innings while recording seven strikeouts and no walks. The Yankees will need Tanaka to pitch with that kind of effectiveness tonight and not pitch like he did during his previous start against the Astros when Houston scored six runs (three homers) off of him in five innings.
The Yankees need a solid start from Tanaka because the Astros starter, Dallas Keuchel, has had a Cy Young caliber campaign. Keuchel, who finished the regular season with 20 wins and an outstanding 2.48 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and 216 strikeouts, dominated the Yankees in his two starts against them during the season. In two starts against the Bronx Bombers, he did not allow a run in 16 innings while striking out 19 batters.
Keuchel throws a sinker (90 mph), slider (80 mph), change (80 mph), cutter (87 mph) and a four-seam fastball (90 mph). He can command all of his pitches for strikes, which makes him hard to hit. Keuchel is coming into tonight’s start with momentum as he gave up four runs combined in his previous three starts and on September 27 he allowed one run in seven innings while recording 10 strikeouts. That was the fifth time this season that he struck out 10 or more batters.
However, one advantage that the Yankees could have against Keuchel is that he will be pitching on short rest for the first time in tonight’s game. Also, Keuchel and all of the Astros position players except Carlos Gomez, Jed Lowrie and Colby Rasmus will be playing in the postseason for the first time.
“I play with a chip on my shoulder,” Keuchel said Monday at Yankee Stadium. “I think a lot of the guys do in there as well. And we’ll always carry that.”
The Yankees will need the same kind of offensive production from rookies Rob Refnsyder and Greg Bird that they received during the last few weeks of the season. In Bird’s last 13 games of the season, he had 14 hits in 48 at-bats (.292) with three doubles, four homers, eight runs scored and 10 RBIs. That is very good production from a rookie who is playing in place of the injured Mark Teixeira.
In Refsnyder’s eight starts at second base in the last 11 games of the season, he had 11 hits in 28 at-bats (.393) with three doubles, one homer and three RBIs. He has had the majority of his starts against lefties and has hit them very well.
The Astros, who were 53-28 at home this season, were only 33-48 in away games. That has to do with Houston being a young team. Keuchel has also been much better at Minute Maid Park than in away games this season since he had a 1.46 ERA at home and a much higher 3.77 ERA away from Houston. Keuchel pitching on short rest and the game being at Yankee Stadium could be factors in this wild card game.
Here is the roster that the Yankees will use for tonight’s game against Houston:
John Ryan Murphy
After clinching a spot in the wild card game on Thursday against the Red Sox and having their game against the Orioles rained out on Friday, the Yankees will play a double header in Baltimore today. The Yankees beat the Red Sox 4-1 on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium and with the win they snapped their two-year postseason drought. The Yankees also won their 10,000th game in franchise history after previously losing three games in a row.
The Yankees were an underdog coming into the season since some predicted them to finish in last place, which makes this postseason appearance especially meaningful.
“This was really rewarding because I’ve had a chance to be on a lot of teams that have made the postseason fortunately and this one was probably as much of a grind as any one,” Joe Girardi said. “This one, there was probably as much uncertainty even on a daily basis. There were a lot, a lot of moving parts, so I think this was probably as rewarding as any club that I’ve been on that made the playoffs.”
Thursday’s postseason clinching win was made more significant because it was at home and it came over the Red Sox. The Yankees had lost four of their previous six home games and it was great for the players on the team that they were able to get this win in front of their home fans and be able to celebrate in their stadium.
The Yankees currently have a 2.5 game lead over the Houston Astros for the first wild card spot with three games to play, which means that it is almost a guarantee that the wild card game will be played at Yankee Stadium. Houston has a one-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for the second wild card and the Minnesota Twins are a game behind the Angels. It will be a better matchup for the Yankees if they play the Angels in the wild card game because the Astros ace, Dallas Keuchel, has a 2.48 ERA this season and did not allow a run in his two starts against the Yankees.
Joe Girardi is prioritizing resting his regulars during today’s double header over putting his best players on the field in Game 1 to try to clinch home-field in the wild card game. However, if the Yankees do get a win against the Orioles, who are not playing for anything, they will clinch home-field in the wild card game.
Austin Romine will make his first career start at first base, Jose Pirela will play right field giving Carlos Beltran the game off, John Ryan Murphy will get his second consecutive start at catcher and Brendan Ryan will play shortstop instead of Didi Gregorius.
Murphy gave an epic interview during the Yankees post game celebration on Thursday. He has hit very well for a back-up catcher this season and in his last four games he is 4-13 (.308) with one run scored and one double. It can be hard for back-up catchers to hit for a high average because they usually get inconsistent at-bats.
Rookie Rob Refsnyder has also hit very well recently while getting increased playing time at second. In his six starts during the home-stand, Refsnyder had eight hits in 20 at-bats (.400) with one runs scored, one homer, one steal, two RBIs and two doubles. He will likely get the start in the wild card game, against Keuchel if they play the Astros, based on his performance in those six games.
Girardi announced that Ivan Nova will start today’s game at 12:05 p.m. and that Luis Severino will start the second game, but that could change if the Yankees secure home field advantage before the second game starts. Michael Pineda will get the start on Sunday.
Brett Gardner CF
Rob Refsnyder 2B
Alex Rodriguez DH
Chris Young LF
Chase Headley 3B
John Ryan Murphy C
Jose Pirela RF
Austin Romine 1B
Brendan Ryan SS
The Yankees, who have a four-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the American League East, start a three-game series against the Orioles tonight at Yankee Stadium. This is an important series because with a sweep they could have a seven-game lead over Baltimore, who is likely the most talented overall team besides the Yankees in the division.
Coming into this series, the Yankees have won six of their last eight games and they are coming off of winning two of three games against the Seattle Mariners at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees pitched well overall in that series as the Mariners scored seven runs combined and didn’t score more than three runs in any game.
The bullpen has been a strength for the Yankees this season and that was the case against the Mariners as well. The bullpen combined to throw eight scoreless innings and strikeout nine batters during the three-game series. That is one area of the team that definitely does not need to be improved before the trade deadline.
Offense is a strength for both the Yankees and Orioles. Baltimore is fourth out of 15 teams in the American League with 113 homers, they are fourth in the AL with a .257 average and fourth with a .423 slugging percentage. The Yankees, on the other hand, are second in the league with 418 runs scored, tied for second in the AL with 120 homers and are also second in the league with 398 RBIs.
The Orioles have a better rotation than the Yankees, but New York has a better record because of their better overall lineup and bullpen. Chris Young, who was signed to a one-year contract in November, will start tonight and has been a key addition because he plays a solid right field and has an outstanding .360 average in 86 at-bats against lefties with six homers, 14 RBIs and a 1.101 OPS.
Overall, Young has a .251 average in 215 at-bats with 11 homers, 27 RBIs, 33 runs scored and a .773 OPS. “I would think against every lefty we face he will be in there,” Joe Girardi said.
The Yankees will be facing a lefty tonight in Wei-Yin Chen. He has the best ERA (2.78) of any Orioles starter and during his three July starts he has an impressive 2.35 ERA with a 0.85 WHIP. Nathan Eovaldi will get the start for the Yankees and his 4.50 ERA is second lowest out of the five starters in the rotation, but Eovaldi has a 2.87 ERA in three July starts and has allowed two earned runs or less in four of his last five starts.
According to STATS, Chen has a 1.95 ERA during his five consecutive quality starts, while Eovaldi is 4-0 with a 2.93 ERA in his last five starts. Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann have been run producers in the middle of the lineup so far this season and the Yankees will need that to continue during this series. The Yankees will look to win their fifth straight series before they go on a 10-game road trip.
Here are the pitching matchups for this series against the Orioles:
RHP Nathan Eovaldi (9-2, 4.50)
LHP Wei-Yin Chen (4-5, 2.78)
7:05 p.m., WPIX and MLB Network
RHP Ivan Nova (1-3, 3.42)
RHP Kevin Gausman (1-1, 5.00)
7:05 p.m., YES Network and ESPN
RHP Masahiro Tanaka (6-3, 3.65)
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (7-5, 3.29)
1:05 p.m., YES Network and MLB Network