Talk to Staten Island skipper Tom Slater, however, and you’ll quickly learn to not believe everything you read.
“I think Cito’s a complete player, I really do,” he said.
“Cito’s a really good defensive player, he’s played shortstop very well. He makes all the routine plays, and then he seems to routinely make a spectacular play a game as well. He’s got great instincts, and he’s had them since day one. He had them last year in the GCL as well.
“With the bat, you look at the numbers, and he’s really swung it well from the right side. The left side, his numbers aren’t quite as good. But we’ve seen great improvement there. I think just with his approach, our hitting coach Ty Hawkins has done a really good job working with him daily.”
But Culver’s baseball acumen and ability are not the most impressive thing about the young man. Not even close.
Incredibly mature for his age, perhaps because he had no other choice but to grow up fast, Culver has overcome a troubled childhood in which his father broke into the family home and burnt it down when he was 15 years old. With his Chris Culver, Sr. out of his life — he’s currently incarcerated at the Attica Correctional Facility on charges of burglary and arson — Cito Culver has relied on a higher power to get him to this point.
“It’s really a blessing from God,” said Culver.
“All my success and everything that I’ve done up until now has been through Him, and that’s helped me a lot. He’s gotten me through my downs and He helps me when I’m up. He’s always there for me.”
Culver somehow overcame all of that to become the New York Yankees first round draft choice last season.
“It was probably the best moment of my life,” he said. “There’s no other way to explain it. I’ve always wanted to play baseball professionally, and I’ve always wanted to play for the Yankees.”
So far, of course, Culver has progressed only as far as the Staten Island Yankees, the Bronx Bombers Short Season-A ball affiliate. He returns there after finishing out his 2010 campaign in the New York-Penn League, and he’s shown vast improvement from a 15-game stint in which he hit just .186 with just one extra-base hit and no RBI in 43 at-bats.
“Just getting used to the overall grind has been the biggest adjustment,” says Culver of making the transition to pro ball.
“It’s a long season and I’m just trying to work through it, that’s the hardest part for me.”
Culver, who did hit .269 with two home runs and 18 RBI in 41 games with the Yankees Gulf Coast League team last season, is posting similar numbers this season with Staten Island. In 56 games, the six-foot, 185 pounder is batting .270 with two home runs and 31 RBI, and has made 15 errors in 54 starts at shortstop. Perhaps he might show similar characteristics to another shortstop who currently wears the number two on his back: Derek Jeter.
That would make some sense. After all, Culver has long looked up to the Yankee Captain and has tried to model his game after him — although he stresses that just playing as hard as he can every inning is his biggest goal.
“Jeter, I’ve always looked up to him,” Culver said.
“I’ve talked to him every once in a while. Just about baseball, how it is in the minor leagues. He tells me his stories from the minor leagues, and that it’s a struggle and you’ve just got to push through it.”
And who knows, perhaps one day Culver will be the man to one day replace his idol. He’ll just have to pick a different number if he gets there.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com