Yankees prospect Cito Culver could prove critics wrong with a strong 2014 at shortstop. Mandatory Credit: Mike LoMoglio/MILB.com

The Future Shortstop?

 

In case anyone has been in a cave for the last few days and didn’t hear, Derek Jeter is hanging up his cleats at the end of the 2014 season. For most Yankee fans, it may not have quite sunk in that the greatest Yankee of our generation will not be on the field come opening day, 2015. It’s an understatement to say there will be a gaping hole in the infield moving forward.

This begs the question “Who is the Yankees shortstop of the future?” There are a lot of different directions the team could go. Some sound better than others. For the immediate future, Stephen Drew is still holding out for a multi-year deal. Signing Drew today, and letting him man third base this season and sliding him over to short in 2015 sounds intriguing, but the Yanks have already shelled out a boat load of money this off-season and the 30-year-old is not going to come cheap. Having Eduardo Nunez and Kelly Johnson as third base options further complicates things. One of my colleagues discussed the possibility of trading for Troy Tulowitzki. His potential availability has been rumored for some time and is something Yankee management must at least inquire about. There are free agent options after 2014. Besides J.J. Hardy and Hanley Ramirez -both of whom may sign extensions with their current clubs- the list is uninspiring. Its no secret that the Yankees have a very thin farm system and shortstop is no different.

That brings us to a guy that is very interesting. In 2010, the Yankees made a decision to draft a young shortstop right out of high school named Cito Culver. The move came with mixed reviews. Most people viewed Culver as having an above-average glove, a big arm and being an offensive project. From 2010 to 2012, the Rochester native did nothing to prove his critics wrong. In fact, by the end of the 2012 season many had given up on Culver ever being able to hit consistently. The 2012-2013 off-season might have been a turning point for the then 20-year-old. Culver made a decision to give up switch hitting and just focus on batting from the right side. The switch did not pay immediate dividends but eventually Culver started hitting in Low-A ball, and hitting a lot. The improvement earned him a promotion to High-A ball. Although is was only a small sample size, the former “bust” absolutely raked. He hit .355 with a homer and five doubles in 16 games.

To expect the young man to maintain an average like that is unrealistic. However, if he can become a consistent offensive player by either hitting close to .300 or improving on his on-base-percentage, he should quickly advance through the system in 2014. His defensive skills are ready for the majors today. A significant offensive improvement will undoubtedly put Culver in Triple-A by the end of 2014. If he ends his 2014 campaign in Scranton, he may have a shot to start his 2015 season in The Bronx.

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