By: Brian Frank
Cullen Large is a versatile player, both with the glove and the bat. He’s played second base, first base, third base, left field, and right field for the Herd – and he’s a switch-hitter who swings the bat well from both sides of the plate.
“He’s just been having some great at-bats and doing a great job defensively,” Bisons manager Casey Candale said recently of Large. “He puts together quality at bats and gets the bat on the ball and has gotten some big hits. He’s done it from both sides of the plate so far. He plays different positions, so he brings a lot to a team and has been a really big positive for us.”
Large is a natural right-handed batter, but he began toying with the idea of switch-hitting at an early age.
“Chipper Jones was my favorite player growing up,” he said in a recent interview with The Herd Chronicles. “So even when I was three or four I would go out in the backyard and, like every kid, hit wiffle balls left-handed and right-handed. Every once in a while in little league games growing up I’d hit left-handed when we were up by ten runs or whatever, just kind of messing around.”
Large didn't start taking switch-hitting seriously until high school. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
He credits his summer coach when he was in high school with giving him the idea to try hitting left-handed during games and to take switch-hitting more seriously.
“I was hitting left-handed in the cage and my summer high school coach, Rich Graham, saw me doing it and was like, ‘Hey, I think you should try this this weekend. I think it could really be good for you if it works out.’ I tried it for the weekend. Nothing crazy happened that weekend, but I was putting balls in play and having good at bats. He said, ‘I think you need to do this.’ He was the first person that was like, ‘But if you do it, you can’t back out.’”
“That summer I hit a home run and it was like – oh, I actually should be doing this. I ended up setting my high school record for sacrifice bunts just learning how to move the ball and trying to win games from that side when I wasn’t as comfortable. It wasn’t until I got to college that I started learning how to actually hit left-handed.”
His defensive versatility is also something that came about over time. Large played shortstop growing up, but started playing second base in college at William and Mary.
“In 2018 in low-A, I started playing third base,” he said. “I got comfortable there in 2019 playing there almost every day. Outfield is something that I’ve worked at more recently, but I’m getting pretty comfortable out there.”
First base is just one of many positions Large has played with the Herd. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
Large starred in college at William and Mary, slashing .338/.419/.507 during his junior season. He was drafted by the Blue Jays in the fifth round of the 2017 June Amateur Draft and began his professional career playing for the Vancouver Canadians in the Low-A Northwest League.
“That was fun,” he said. “Vancouver is a really cool city. I had a great host family. They made everything really fun. Playing in front of 6,000 or 7,000 fans every night is really cool, especially coming from a small school where our stadium holds 1,000 or 2,000 people. It was kind of eye opening. Honestly, it took a little bit of adjusting. But Vancouver is such a fun city. Especially for a bunch of 21-year-olds to go and learn pro ball a little bit. It was a really great experience. “
His first year of professional baseball also had its challenges – especially adjusting to a higher caliber of pitching.
“Coming from a smaller school, it was a little bit of a bigger jump than I had originally thought as far as facing pitchers,” he said. “In college you can kind of work backwards a little bit – guys were throwing a bunch of off-speed early. I kind of had that mindset going in that guys were going to be throwing a bunch of off speed just like college and it was kind of the exact opposite. Guys just threw harder and they were like, ‘Try to hit it. Here it comes.’ So that was the biggest adjustment for me. “
Vancouver had a very successful season, something that would become a theme in Large’s career. The Canadians finished in first place in their division and went on to win the Northwest League Championship.
“I got hurt at the beginning of August, but I was still up there at the time of the playoffs,” he remembered. “We had a really good bunch of guys. It was just fun. Similar to the team last year. Everybody really liked playing with each other. It was easy to play with everybody and it just rolled into winning a bunch of games.”
The next season, Large got off to a hot start for the Single-A Lansing Lugnuts. Through twenty-seven games, he was slashing .316/.411/.568, when his season was derailed by an injury. While playing third base in a game at Bowling Green, he charged a bunt and made a barehanded grab, but when he threw to first, he slipped and injured his left-shoulder.
“I had some success hitting wise right before I got hurt,” he recalled. “I think I hit a homer in each of my last three games before I got hurt. So it was pretty frustrating honestly – feeling so good and having that happen.”
Large played for the 2020 division champion Bisons. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
He began the next season at High-A Dunedin, where his hot hitting continued. He hit .269/.361/.408 in 84 games and was named to the Florida State League All-Star team. He moved up to the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats in August and once again had to adjust to a higher caliber of pitching.
“Guys at lower levels – if you swing and miss at two fast balls and you’re late, they’ll throw you an off-speed pitch just because that’s what they want to do. When I got to Double-A, I realized that if you swing and miss at two fastballs, you’re probably going to get another fastball.”
In 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic wiped out the minor-league season, Large found himself scrambling to find a place to play. His former teammate, Zach Logue, convinced him to sign with the Lexington Legends to play in a four-team league called the Battle of the Bourbon Trail. The teams were made up of former major-leaguers, current and former minor-leaguers, and Independent League players.
“I went out there and got seventy or eighty at-bats,” he said. “In a year that was completely lost it was good just to play. There definitely was some good competition. There were a few big leaguers. Ben Revere was there, Brandon Phillips, Robbie Ross Jr., Henry Owens. So there was some good competition. I was definitely impressed.”
In 2021, when minor-league baseball finally resumed, Large played for a Bisons team that began the season in Trenton, New Jersey, to accommodate the Blue Jays playing in Buffalo. The Herd returned to Buffalo in August and went on to win their division for the first time in sixteen years. Large noted that the Bisons’ success was a product of their emphasis on winning.
“It’s the little things – learning to move guys over, learning to sacrifice for the team, little stuff like that,” he said. “I think now in minor league baseball it’s so much about development that learning how to win is one of those things that’s like an added bonus.”
He sees similarities between last year’s division winning club and this season’s team. The 2022 Bisons have great chemistry and a good a mix of veteran and young players, just like the 2021 version did.
Gabriel Moreno and Large during a pitching change. Photo Credit, BrianM. Frank, The Herd Chronicles.
“There’s a lot of different faces obviously and some younger guys,” he said. “But that goes to the culture part that you want in an organization. They’ve done a good job valuing character and how guys act in the clubhouse – it makes for a seamless transition.”
Large doesn’t like to set goals for himself heading into a new season. He prefers to take one at-bat at a time. That strategy is working – he’s slashing .321/.424/.411 through nineteen games.
“I had a pretty good spring training, so I’m just trying to keep that rolling and just keep trying to put good at-bats together,” he said.
“I’m kind of the mindset that less is more,” he continued. “Just kind of not having expectations and trying to have fun and enjoy little parts. Even when things aren’t going as well, trying to pick out the little parts that are still fun. I think I learned that when I was struggling in the first half of last year. That was the thing that dug me out of it – finding little things to get excited for. You can get sucked down the hole when you’re not going very well. It gets kind of miserable to show up, thinking I’m going to go 0-for-4 again. Those negative thoughts kind of snowball. Just like switch hitting – being able to trick yourself when you’re not as confident from one side of the plate. Tricking yourself into a little bit of confidence can go a really long way. Just like negative thoughts snowball – tricking yourself into confidence – that also snowballs.”
“I can probably attribute my success now to when I was not doing very well last year. I think that’s an important thing to learn. Wherever I end up after baseball, I’m going to take that with me and hopefully relay that to help somebody else. “
Large leads the team off the field after another victory. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles