There are a lot of pundits who possess an unbelievable amount of knowledge about the players available in the MLB Draft and the thought processes of the teams making the selections. That being said, though, they generally don’t do a great job predicting who teams will take. There’s no Nate Silver of the MLB Draft as even the most knowledgable efforts get plenty of picks wrong. In the case of Nick Ciuffo, however, everyone saw it a week in advance and they all wound up being right. But just because it was such a predictable pick doesn’t mean that there was anything wrong with it. It was so easily foreseen because it was such a perfect fit.
Draft after draft, the Rays have proved that they can’t get enough of high school players with upside. But at a certain point, the Rays realized that it was time to stop swinging for the fences by selecting high-risk players even when their potential was tremendous. The Rays showed a shift in their strategy the past couple of years, selecting Mikie Mahtook with their second 1st round pick in 2011 and Richie Shaffer with their 1st rounder in 2012. Both still were talented, but were safer picks with the ability to make an impact in the major leagues more quickly. In Nick Ciuffo, the Rays have found a player with a little more polish and a higher floor–but renewed the spirit of their previous picks with his talent and believe they have filled what has been a major organizational gap since their inception in the catcher position.
Ciuffo, a catcher from Lexington High School in South Carolina, stands out as a catcher featuring not just raw talent like previous Rays picks Justin O’Conner and Luke Bailey, but present talents defensively and a bat that continues to come along. We have seen the past few years how much the Rays love receiving abilities from their catchers considering how they have stuck with Jose Molina as their starting catcher, and Ciuffo stands out for his receiving ability as a prep product. He looks natural in his crouch behind the plate and does a great job staying still as he catches the ball to sell tons of pitches as strikes. The Rays’ pitching prospects are going to love throwing to him because of that, and the same could be true for Rays pitchers in a few years. Ciuffo has also shown great leadership behind the plate calling games, something that should help the Rays’ young pitchers even more. Ciuffo’s defense, though, revolves around a lot more than just standing still and talking. Ciuffo moves extremely well behind the plate to block balls in the dirt, and he shows great pop times behind the plate with a great arm, although he does have to refine his throwing motion. Ciuffo’s defense trailed only #9 overall pick Reese McGuire in the draft class, and at the end of it all, he could be a plus defender.
On the offensive side, Ciuffo is much less developed but still has a nice amount of potential. He shows a short, compact stroke with good bat speed and strength that could lead to power down the line. Ciuffo has a disciplined approach, but he’s going to have to keep improving his pitch recognition and learn to use the whole field. With his smooth swing, though, Ciuffo has a chance to be a player who could spray line drives all over the field and hit for a relatively high average. Ciuffo won’t be explosive at the plate, but he has what it takes to be an above-average offensive catcher to pair with his great defense.
Even in the best-case scenario, Ciuffo is a good three or four years away from ending the Rays’ catching misery. At the same time, though, he has the ability to move quickly for a high school product and comes with less risk than other high school products. The Rays would give up a lot for an average starting catcher under team control, and Ciuffo has a chance to be that and more before all that long. Ciuffo’s talent from a position of need and outstanding combination of present skills and continued room to grow was too tantalizing for the Rays to pass up. The Rays got their guy and they can’t wait to see what he can do.