Cullen leading off, leading by example at VCU
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Mar 18, 2013, 13:41
Virginia Commonwealth University junior Bill Cullen (2), a former standout at Thomas Dale High School, watches ball four of his second at-bat during a non-conference game against visiting Monmouth on Saturday at The Diamond in Richmond. The Colonial Heights native is leading the Rams with a batting average of .370, an on-base percentage of .514 and three home runs so far this season (photo by Jacob Vaughan).
RICHMOND – At 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, Bill Cullen is the smallest player listed on the Virginia Commonwealth University baseball team’s roster.
But the former Thomas Dale High School standout boasts the Rams’ biggest bat.
A junior center fielder, Cullen has maintained a team-high .370 batting average through 16 games this season. His three home runs lead VCU, as do his 18 runs scored, 15 walks and .514 on-base percentage.
“Everybody always talks about how I’m undersized,” Cullen said after an 8-3 victory over Monmouth at The Diamond in Richmond on Saturday. “But I don’t really think about it that way. Yeah, I’m a small guy, but I’m one of the strongest guys on the team.
“I work hard. So I feel like if you’re doing that, you’re going to succeed regardless of how big you are.”
That work ethic has become Cullen’s calling card, and first-year VCU coach Shawn Stiffler said it is unrivaled in the Rams’ clubhouse.
“Bill is not only our best player, he’s also our hardest worker,” Stiffler said. “He beats everybody into the [batting] cages. He’s the first guy in there working on his swing. He’s done a great job of refining that swing, and his plate discipline has gotten a lot better over the last three years.”
The fruits of Cullen’s painstaking labor are plain to see.
The southpaw slugger has solidified his spot at the top of the Rams’ batting order, though Cullen is far from a prototypical lead-off man. No slap hitter, the former All-Central Region performer has eight extra-base hits to date.
“For me, being able to hit doubles, triples and home runs feels good,” Cullen said. “Because it makes people more aware of me.”
By now, the Colonial Heights native should need no introduction — his debut season in Richmond should have served as a sufficient first impression.
Cullen contributed right off the bat as a true freshman, averaging .324 at the plate en route to garnering all-rookie and second-team all-conference honors in the Colonial Athletic Association.
While the diminutive freshman was shorter than most in stature, he was not short on confidence. “I expected success out of myself, but I knew I was going to have to work for it,” he said.
Cullen picked up Third-Team All-CAA honors as a sophomore and tied for the national lead with nine triples. His offensive statistics have all seen healthy increases so far this season, and Stiffler said his defensive play is following a similar trajectory.
The speedy outfielder has successfully swiped two bases in three attempts and is yet to commit an error on defense.
“Bill plays on all three sides of the baseball,” Stiffler said. “He has the ability to be a shut-down defender in center field, he has the ability to hit and drive in runs and he also has the ability to affect the game on the basepaths with his speed.
“He’s a multi-dimensional player.”
So well-rounded is Cullen’s repertoire that Stiffler believes the player he first recruited as a high school junior can play at the next level.
“He needs to focus on being the best college player he can be first,” Stiffler said. “As soon as he achieves that, I think there will be an opportunity for him to move on and play pro ball.”
Cullen conceded that he likes the thought of turning his lifelong hobby into a career, but added that his game is still a work in progress. He’s working to improve his ability to bunt for hits and honing his leadership skills now that he is an upperclassman.
Stiffler said the latter adjustment will be critical if VCU is going to find success during its inaugural season in the Atlantic 10 Conference, which begins this weekend with a home series against Butler.
“I expect him to continue to be a leader for us,” Stiffler said. “That’s one role he needs to live up to this year. We need him to be more than Bill Cullen, good baseball player. We need him to be Bill Cullen, good player and leader of the VCU baseball team.”
VCU baseball notes: Cullen is the lone Central District representative on the Rams’ active roster, but four of his college teammates graduated from Chesterfield County high schools. They are Manchester alumni Joey Cujas, Chris Ayers and Ryan Morrison and former Cosby standout Michael Carpenter … Five others – Landon Prentiss (Henrico), Matt Lees (Mills Godwin), Ryan Farrar (Atlee), Michael Thomas (Lee-Davis) and Seth Green (Deep Run) – also plied their trade in the Central Region … After winning their first nine games, the Rams have slipped to 11-5 on the young season.