Yankees scoff at critics of first-round pick
BALTIMORE - Pundits weren't the only ones surprised the Yankees picked Cito Culver in the first round of the baseball draft.
"It was an unbelievable feeling," said Culver, a senior shortstop at West Irondequoit High School in Rochester. "I've been working for this all my life. To go 32 overall to my favorite team and the team I was growing up watching and the team my family's followed for years, it was just an awesome feeling. Unreal."
Culver, who after yesterday's conference call with reporters was headed to pick up a pinstripe tuxedo he planned to wear to his high school's senior prom Friday, was projected by Baseball America to go anywhere from the fourth to sixth rounds.
Some were critical of the pick, and Yankees vice president of amateur scouting Damon Oppenheimer fired back, albeit a bit passive aggressively, Tuesday morning.
"The main ranking that means something to me is the ranking our guys have," Oppenheimer said on a conference call. "I had over 100 years of scouting experience go and see this kid. All my cross checkers who have been doing this a long time . . . come back with a thumbs up. That means more to me than the public opinion of Baseball America or some other publications that aren't able to get out to these places and see these kids."
Oppenheimer said at the time the Yankees picked, Culver "was the highest position player we had left on the board."
Oppenheimer said that Culver wouldn't have lasted until the Yankees' next pick, 82nd overall, in the second round.
"Right after we did pick him, I got a call from one of our competitors who's very successful in this . . . He wouldn't have gotten to 82," Oppenheimer said.
The Yankees love Culver's arm - some scouts reported him throwing as high as 94 mph off the mound - and they have every intention of keeping him at shortstop, Oppenheimer said.
Culver, who counts Derek Jeter among his sports idols, committed to play at the University of Maryland and some predraft speculation said he might be difficult to sign. After espousing "unfortunately there is a business side to baseball," he couldn't contain his enthusiasm regarding his favorite team, no doubt in a way that's not in any of his advisers' playbooks.
"I just can't wait to be a Yankee," he said.