Rockies fans may dream of having the formerly named Mike Stanton as a corner outfielder at Coors Field. Instead, they got 27 games of a guy in left field, a middle infielder who was originally drafted in 2007 by the Giants with a compensation pick for the loss of....Mike Stanton. Okay, I just wanted an excuse to dream about Giancarlo at Coors Field. Alas, back to reality.
The Rockies acquired Charlie Culberson in the middle of 2012 for the disappointing Marco Scutaro. Scutaro would rebound and help the Giants win the World Series, while Rockies fans did not even see Culberson as a September call-up, in part due to the birth of his child.
After hitting well in 97 games with the Sky Sox (.310/.338/.524), Culberson was called up in late July when Jordan Pacheco was optioned to AAA.
It should be noted that Charlie Culberson is a second baseman by trade. He played shortstop in low levels of the minors, but not since he was a teenager. DJ LeMahieu was hitting well and deserving of regular time at second base, so Culberson was blocked from playing time at that position. Given the presence of two other right-handed hitting second basemen at the time he was acquired in 2012 (Rutledge/LeMahieu), this road block was not unforseen.
The Rockies auditioned Culberson in the outfield for three games in AAA, his first pro experience in the outfield. Satisfied with the results and desperate for some help in the outfield with injuries to Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez, the Rockies moved Culberson to the largest left field in MLB for the remainder of his season. Given his inexperience, there were predictably difficult results:
Given the defensive issues, initial offensive struggles and stigma of being the return in the Marco Scutaro trade, Charlie Culberson was not a particularly popular player among fans. But a funny thing happened once attention started being diverted away from the Rockies come September.
Culberson put together an exceptionally strong final month, posting an OPS above .900 and stringing together a 10-game hitting streak. More importantly, Culberson vastly improved his defense. On the final Sunday game at Coors Field, he unleashed two perfect throws, gunning down AJ Pollack at both home plate and at second base. By the end, the defensive metric systems at both Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus rated Culberson as an above average fielder in left field.
Grade With Rockies: C
|2013 - Charlie Culberson||47||99||12||29||5||0||2||12||4||23||5||1||.293||.317||.404|
|Charlie Culberson - 2013 WAR||Bat (R)
The Rockies had a strange roster quirk in 2013 in that Michael Cuddyer was the only outfielder on the roster that batted right-handed. That all but guaranteed Culberson a start any time a southpaw took the mound against the Rockies. Barring a trade or free agent signing for 2014, this will only become more of a problem as Cuddyer slides into the first base role. Colorado Springs is unlikely to give much depth for that hole either, as Kyle Parker (who shares agents with Culberson) and Kent Matthes are unlikely to be MLB ready in early 2014.
Given his surge in late 2013, it is possible we see more of Charlie Culberson in 2014 than most would expect. He does have one option year remaining, if there are sufficient upgrades to push him into AAA. I suspect one way or another, he starts the 2014 season with the Sky Sox.