There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2017-18 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players
This week: Gopher freshman baseball pitcher Joshua Culliver
Joshua Culliver is one of eight first-year hurlers on the 2018 Minnesota baseball team, and his coach “couldn’t be more pleased” with his progress.
Culliver this season has been a spot starter as well as in relief. “He is going to be an outstanding pitcher in this program once he gets more experience and makes some adjustments and execution on some of his pitchers,” Coach John Anderson said of the 6’-2” Omaha, Neb. freshman right-hander.
We watched him earlier this year pitch 2-2/3 scoreless innings March 29 against visiting St. John’s at the Vikings’ downtown stadium. He told us afterwards, “We were down big [U of M lost 11-5], but to me it didn’t matter. I think my best pitch tonight was my changeup. I mixed it in very well with my fastball and my slider. When my fastball command is there, my changeup is there really well.”
The young man also struck out two in only his third collegiate appearance.
Anderson reiterated that it’s almost expected for frosh pitchers such as Culliver to slowly gain their groove while they adjust from high school to college ball. “It’s typical for a young high school player at this level to [learn and] to be able to execute [through] the whole lineup, not just a couple of guys, and be able to control the game, and be able to get an off-speed pitch over the plate,” the coach explained.
“I consider my best pitch my changeup,” Culliver reiterated when asked. “It is something I focused on when I was a little kid. I didn’t start throwing breaking balls until high school. I always had a changeup. I don’t rely on it, but I like to go to it when I need to.”
Originally a shortstop, Culliver also played in the outfield – both spots demand a strong throwing arm. But it wasn’t until his eighth-grade year when a coach suggested he might want to focus on pitching.
“My freshman year in high school, they [coaches] decided” to move him to the mound, Culliver recalled. “I pitched more than I played in the field. My first year on varsity I was a pitcher only.”
Since pitchers rarely hit today because of the designated hitter, “It was a tough transition,” he remembered. “I stopped hitting and being around position players. To only being around pitchers was a big adjustment.”
“I’m very pleased with his development,” Anderson said of Culliver. “He’s very coachable. I think he understands where he’s at and what he needs to work on.” The longtime Gopher coach added that the young man has been working with the pitching coach on his delivery and mechanisms, and Culliver is progressing at this time as he hoped.
“He’s got enough stuff,” Anderson said. “It’s just that he’s got to learn how to use it and get better on how to execute certain pitches.” He foresees Culliver getting bigger and stronger in the next couple of years as well. “I couldn’t be more pleased with where he’s at and his development, and where I think his future lies.”
“I think college baseball is something people dream of,” Culliver noted. “I am playing with guys who are pretty much grown men. The atmosphere…is a lot different compared to high school.
“I think it doesn’t matter where we play or who we play. I’m still going to go out there and compete.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org