Nick Ciuffo, the Rays’ first round pick in this year’s draft, is a very talented prospect. Just because he’s talented, though, doesn’t mean he could play in the major leagues right now and put up anywhere near respectable numbers. If he faced a big league pitcher, we would assume that the 18 year old Ciuffo would strike out or at least put the ball in play weakly. If he somehow got a hit, it would be a groundball going through a hole or a bloop dropping in, certainly not any type of hit with authority. It’s just common sense. But sometimes common sense is wrong. Nick Ciuffo faced a major league pitcher and ended up with a whole lot more than a single.
Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn is currently rehabbing in the Gulf Coast League after undergoing surgeries on his elbow and wrist on his right throwing arm over the offseason. He was released by the Twins and re-signed to a minor league deal, allowing him to rehab in the GCL as opposed to another level and take as much time as he needs. Considering Blackburn way down in the GCL, the lowest level of affiliated baseball in America, you know that he’s a long time away from returning and there’s a chance he never will. However, with Blackburn having over 800 big league innings under his belt, even a shadow of his former self is enough to prevent Rookie ball hitters from doing much against him. In 8 innings, he has allowed 2 runs on 9 hits, but he has struck out 5 without allowing a walk or a home run. Overall, he has allowed two extra-base hits. One was a double to 23 year old St. John’s product Danny Bethea, the Red Sox’ 34th round pick in this year’s draft.* The second was to 18 year old Ciuffo in the 2nd inning of Wednesday game.
Blackburn left a fastball up and the lefty-swinging Ciuffo destroyed it, slamming a line drive into the right field corner for a triple. You could dismiss it as one errant pitch and one lucky swing, but the facts are the facts. The Rays’ first round pick drilled a triple off of a former big league pitcher. And in a few years, the Rays hope Ciuffo will be hitting the ball similarly as hard off of major league pitchers on a regular basis.
*Coincidentally, the 34th round of the 2000 MLB Draft was when the Rays selected Blackburn, although he didn’t sign.