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Yanks stay close to home by tabbing Culver

Yanks stay close to home by tabbing Culver

NEW YORK -- The Yankees trained a close eye upon their home state to find high school shortstop Christopher "Cito" Culver, taking the promising switch-hitter with their first-round selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.

Draft Central

New York used the 32nd overall pick on the 17-year-old athlete from Irondequoit High School in Rochester, N.Y. Culver has also touched 94 mph from the mound and names the Yankees as his favorite team.

The 6-foot, 172-pound Culver committed to attend the University of Maryland, but those plans may change now that he has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of one of his favorite players, Derek Jeter.

"He really wants to be a Yankee," said Damon Oppenheimer, vice president of amateur scouting. "I think that we should get him signed and get him out playing fairly soon. This guy really has a passion to make it through the Minor Leagues and play in New York."

Named his team's most valuable player in each of the last three seasons, Culver was also a three-time all-county selection and an Under Armour All-American. He played on the Yankees' Area Code team last summer, working out at Yankee Stadium and participating in a tournament in California.

Culver completed his prep career batting .561 (37-for-66) with 10 doubles, five triples, nine home runs, 38 RBIs and 20 walks in 22 games as a senior.

"I've been working for this all my life," Culver said. "To go 32nd overall to my favorite team and the team I've been growing up watching -- the team my family has followed for years now -- it was just an awesome feeling. It was unreal."

His story is unlike many that were told on Draft day. Culver has endured hardships early in his young life and has been able to use sports to his advantage -- his father, Christopher Culver, Sr., will receive word of Culver's selection by the Yankees from behind bars.

Culver's father is scheduled to be imprisoned for at least six more years after pleading guilty to multiple charges, including first-degree burglary and third-degree arson, related to burning down the family's Rochester home on Easter Sunday 2008. Culver has said that he still looks to his father as a motivational force.

"I know that people think it's perfect now because of the success with baseball," Culver told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle last month. "If people knew how much my father was involved with me playing baseball, they would know it's not an ideal situation. He shared the dream with me. He pushed me to give my all, all of the time. I really do appreciate him doing that."

"He's obviously a very strong person," Culver's mother, Gladys Lopez, told the newspaper. "His love for baseball has dominated the feeling of anything terrible that has happened to him. He's told me that it is his sanctuary, where he feels the safest."

Oppenheimer called Culver a "no-nonsense kid" and said the Yankees do not have concerns about his character.

"He's a 'Yes sir,' 'No sir,' kid, who is very solid," Oppenheimer said. "He's not going to come out and be real emotional one way or the other. He's a very solid kid who is really passionate toward baseball. He's a good person and we feel he's a high character kid. We've watched him play real hard. I feel real good about his makeup."

Oppenheimer said that he toyed with the idea of waiting to select Culver until the 82nd pick, but was glad that he didn't, because at least one competing club later promised that Culver would not have lasted that long.

While Culver drew attention from the representatives of several teams before Monday's Draft, the Yankees perhaps had the most detailed charts on him.

"We've been able to see him play for a long time," Oppenheimer said. "We probably got a couple of hundred at-bats with him. The process of seeing a kid from Rochester, where it's cold and not good weather in the spring, we were ahead of the game because we knew so much about him going into it.

"Right when the season started, every time there was a chance for the weather to break, we had somebody in there."

Scouts have said that Culver's stronger skills at the plate are from the left side, and report that he has shown gap-to-gap power, as well as the beginnings of what could develop into above-average running speed.

"We like him from both sides of the plate and think he's going to be an above-average hitter," Oppenheimer said. "He's got pop in his bat, even with wood. It's high school, but he's hitting the ball over the fence in center field with a heavier wood bat than most of these kids that we see using."

The Yankees sent Commissioner Bud Selig to the podium to announce Culver's selection as a shortstop, where they project he will continue. He had a .933 fielding percentage this year, committing just eight errors in 120 total chances, helping lead his school to the Monroe County Division title.

Culver's selection marks the second consecutive season that the Yankees have taken a high school position player in the first round, and the third straight year they have taken a high school player.

In 2009, New York took outfielder Slade Heathcott with the 29th pick; in 2008, they selected right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole -- who did not sign -- with pick No. 28.

Culver is just the second high school shortstop drafted by the Yankees (also C.J. Henry in 2005) in the first round since the club selected Jeter with the sixth overall pick in the 1992 First-Year Player Draft.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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