If the New York Yankees don’t add former first rounder Cito Culver to the 40-man roster this winter he can depart as a minor league free agent.
Long seen as one of the New York Yankees biggest draft busts in recent memory, Cito Culver has actually put together a decent, if not spectacular, campaign in the upper-minors in 2016.
The 24-year-old infielder began the year with Double-A Trenton, hitting .252/.314/.358 (88 wRC+) in 351 plate appearances. Following an August promotion, Culver has hit .242/.292/.303 (70 wRC+) in 20 games for Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.
It might sound a little sad that those numbers are a step-up from Culver’s usual production. Consider, however, that he is such a fantastic defender that the bar is extremely low for the minimum offense required to make him a major league caliber player.
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He’s never before managed to approach that threshold, but he did somewhat hold his own in the highest level of the Yankees system. By comparison, the previous year he hit a truly miserable .207/258/.287 in 410 PAs.
Another intriguing thing about Culver is his versatility. He’s played all four infield positions capably for the Railriders during August. He’s a good enough athlete that he could probably handle all three outfield spots too given some time to work on it. It doesn’t hurt that he has an absolute cannon of an arm.
The Yankees have left Culver exposed to the Rule 5 draft the last two winters despite his former status as a top prospect. Versatile young infielders are typical Rule 5 fodder, especially if they have first rounder pedigree, so it says a lot that Culver’s twice gone unclaimed.
New York’s decision is a little tougher this season. Not only did Culver put up better numbers, increasing the likelihood of him getting claimed, but if he isn’t added to the 40-man roster this winter, he can depart as a minor league free agent.
Has Culver done enough to justify a roster spot? Probably not given how many other top prospects the Yankees will need to protect this winter. Things are so crowded that the team basically just gave away International League Player of the Year Ben Gamel to clear out space.
If you really squint, it’s possible that Culver could compete with Ronald Torreyes and Rob Refsnyder for the utility infielder job next year. If New York plans on trading Chase Headley, that might increase the likelihood they hang onto Culver, although that seems like a real stretch.
More likely, Culver walks after the season and lands a minor league contract with a rebuilding club looking for infield depth.