The baseball draft is frustrating because there are just so many uncertainties. So few players will make the major leagues, let alone become productive players, and some players won’t even sign. Even the best players might take years to crack a big league roster and it’s almost impossible to accurately review a draft class for a long time. Fans essentially have to see who their teams select and file it away to look back upon in five years. The good about that, though, is that with the success of the draft unattainable for a while, all fans have left to look at is the players who their team drafted. No matter what turn out to be, they have the potential the dream on and give people the opportunity to look into the future of their favorite team if they’re lucky enough. In the of Rays fans in the mid-2000’s, the Devil Rays were a terrible team, but fans keeping track of the draft and the minor leagues saw that the Rays have plenty of talent in their system and that a turnaround just might be in the wings. You never know which moment everything will change. If Rays fans are lucky, though, one of those moments is right now as the Rays have agreed to sign first round catcher Nick Ciuffo.
Ciuffo’s deal includes a $1,947,700 bonus, exactly the slot value for the 21st overall pick in which he was selected. But don’t let the slot bonus belie just how much the Rays are excited about Ciuffo. As we discussed after the draft, Ciuffo was one of the few picks that analysts saw coming a week before the draft because he was just a perfect fit. The Rays have never had a franchise catcher in their history and Ciuffo gives them the chance for exactly that. Ciuffo’s defense emerged as superlative for a high school catcher. He shows quick actions and a strong arm, and he especially stands out for his receiving ability, something we know the Rays emphasize. At the plate, Ciuffo may not have the same type of potential, but with great bat speed as a lefty hitter, flashes of power, and a disciplined approach, Ciuffo could be an above-average offensive catcher as well. Ciuffo gives the Rays a catcher with not just raw talent on both sides of the ball but a foundation to build upon and it’s easy to picture him as a major league catcher. And making him stand out even more is quotes like this after being asked whether the Rays would let him get the big leagues in short order.
“It’s hard to say,” Ciuffo said. “I wouldn’t really say they haven’t had success when it comes to developing catchers. I’m not really sure about who they’ve had in the past. But I can guarantee everybody in Tampa Bay and everybody in the state of Florida one thing. I can’t promise you that I’m going to get to the big leagues, but I can promise you there won’t be another catcher coming out of this Draft that’s going to work harder than me to get to the big leagues.”
Anything can happen in the MLB Draft, and Nick Ciuffo himself understands that. But the more you hear about him, the more you want to believe that today goes down as a turning point in the history of the Tampa Bay Rays, and we will have to see whether that is truly the case. Mark down this date–6/21/13–and you can check back in a few years to see if it’s meaningful at all. Today is the beginning of Nick Ciuffo’s professional baseball career. Only time will tell if it’s the beginning of something more for the Rays franchise.