Giants give Culberson shot to showcase talent
San Francisco Giants middle infielder Charlie Culberson is a promising player. He is being given an opportunity to display his craft as a second baseman on baseball's biggest stage.
Called up on Mother's Day from Triple-A Fresno, Culberson took the field as a Major League player at the age of 23. In fact, he just celebrated his birthday in April.
Culberson might be just what the Giants need while the club awaits the return of injured second baseman Freddie Sanchez.
I like Culberson's future, but I am not as bullish about the here and now. As a replacement player for Sanchez and third baseman Pablo Sandoval -- who are recovering from injuries -- Culberson will have a chance to experience life at the Major League level. It will be a learning experience and a point from which to accelerate and measure his game. He has to adjust to quality pitches and not try to push beyond his abilities.
In my estimation, Culberson is not a finished product. Rather, I see his first San Francisco experience as a temporary stop on his way to being the player he will become.
The Giants selected Culberson No. 51 overall in the supplemental first round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. Signed from Calhoun High School (Ga.), Culberson spent three full seasons and parts of two others learning how to hit progressively better pitching. He has played at every classification within the Giants' Minor League system.
When Culberson got the promotion to join the Giants, he had 2,347 Minor League plate appearances and a .263 career batting average. He was hitting .284 for Fresno this season.
I first saw Culberson play for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the 2010 Arizona Fall League.
During that experience, he hit .366 with two homers and 16 RBIs in 21 games covering 93 at-bats. He made only one error. I was particularly impressed with Culberson's overall style of play and his ability to hit breaking balls. He hustled. He ate a lot of dirt. He showed passion. And he played very solid defense.
Culberson's opportunity with San Francisco arrived at a time when starting shortstop Brandon Crawford had been struggling defensively. Emmanuel Burriss, another Giants middle infielder, can play shortstop if needed. Culberson could be used at second when Burriss plays short, or when manager Bruce Bochy likes Culberson's offensive potential against a particular pitcher.
Culberson is far from a finished product -- especially offensively. His offensive strengths come from an ability to hit line drives to the entire field. He has quick hands through the ball and fast enough bat speed to generate loft and depth.
Culberson has shown an ability to hit for power, as his 16 homers and 28 doubles in 2010 for High-A San Jose illustrated. He followed that fine season with 10 home runs and 34 doubles last year at Double-A Richmond. Until his promotion to San Francisco this month, Culberson had five homers and 11 doubles in 151 plate appearances this season with Fresno.
Culberson's Minor League power statistics are encouraging and appealing. However, they are tempered a bit by his penchant to be a rather aggressive free-swinger, piling up strikeouts in his path. He exacerbates his lack of plate discipline by accepting few bases on balls.
He has to learn to recognize pitches, select better pitches to hit and understand his own strengths and weaknesses regarding pitch type and location. Those are characteristics of solid hitting mechanics that could ultimately separate Culberson from other middle-infield candidates in the Giants organization. Finding patience and self-discipline will be among his most crucial developmental challenges.
From a pure scouting perspective, Culberson can't be deemed a "fast" runner. He does, however, have very good baserunning instincts and a "feel" for stealing bases. He is the type of player with enough speed and baserunning ability to be sent on a hit-and-run or an attempted steal when an extra base is needed. His running ability is an important component of Culberson's total skill set, and one I find important to his game.
Defensively, Culberson has good range and a strong and accurate arm. He can reach balls with a quick first step to both sides, turning a potential hit to an out. I also like his double-play pivot. He looks confident and uses good technique. The Giants will be well served defensively at second base when Culberson plays.
His good hands, quality arm, excellent first-step quickness and Minor League experience give Culberson the ability to play second, third and shortstop in a solid capacity at the Major League level. As a good athlete, I believe he can probably play first base for a limited time, as well. When all is said and done, his offensive production and talents suit him best at second base.
While he is not a finished product, his increasingly positive production during a rather quick rise through the Giants' organization bodes well for Culberson's future. He is a player with an opportunity to convert his raw potential to reality.
Given the statistical results and progress of his career to date, Culberson could become a solid utility-type player for the Giants. If he shows progress making more consistent contact and improving his patience, Culberson could evolve to an everyday player. It will take time, repetition and hard work, but he has the type of temperament to make the best of his talents.
If he is to remain a viable middle-infield option, Culberson will have to temper some of the aggressive behavior at the plate and continue to show defensive ability that instills confidence in his manager. His raw power and ability to drive in runs should evolve naturally.
It is too soon to know if his promotion to the Major League roster is more permanent than temporary. Productivity, circumstances and injury-recoveries will help determine Culberson's future role.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.