When the Tampa Bay Rays took Nick Ciuffo in the first round of the 2013 draft, they were hoping for a catcher who could become a force to reckon with on offense and defense. In his first two years at Rookie ball, though, Ciuffo his hit an underwhelming .239/.292/.322, including a .224/.289/.333 line this year, and he has at least lost some of his luster as a prospect. That said, there are still plenty of positive takeaways from Ciuffo’s first two seasons as a pro.
First of all, Ciuffo’s season got off to a tough start, and that likely affected him throughout the year. Ciuffo suffered a stomach virus at the beginning of the season that caused him to lose 20+ pounds. You have to wonder how long that hurt his performance even as the season progressed, and it may be the reason that Ciuffo was not really an everyday catcher for the Advanced Rookie Princeton Rays this year.
Offensively, meanwhile, Ciuffo has shown above-average raw power, just as he did when he was drafted. Where Ciuffo has disappointed, however, is with his hit tool. Though it was thought to be at least average or a tick above, Ciuffo’s hit tool has been below-average to this point, and that is why he has done little offensively as a pro. If it can develop this to be average, Ciuffo will hit for a solid amount of power, and he could still turn out to be a tick above-average at the plate. But, at present his hit tool is not getting the job done, and that will be what continues to hold him back if he cannot improve.
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The good news for his hit tool is that Ciuffo is getting rave reviews for his makeup. Just 19 years old, he has already impressed with his work ethic and ability as a leader. Guys like this have a better chance of ironing out their issues than those who cannot be described that way. Ciuffo’s bat speed is just as impressive as before, and the big thing he needs to be work on is pitch recognition. Ciuffo fixing that issue will certainly take time and there is no guarantee that it will work out, but Ciuffo will put in as much work as he can to yield the best result he can possibly manage.
A more positive takeaway from this season is that Ciuffo might be an even better defender than we thought he could be. This year he threw out 42% of runners, which ranked second in the Appalachian League. He already has plus arm strength at 19 years old, and he will likely add another tick to that as he continues to mature. Great athleticism leads to a fast release, and it also means that he does a solid job at blocking pitches. Ciuffo already shows flashes of being an advanced receiver, but as with most young catchers there is still some work to be done with his receiving skills. We thought Ciuffo had a chance to be a tick above-average defender, but he has shown the ability to be more than that in his second year as a pro, and there is still plenty of room for him to continue to grow.
Overall, it is too early to start worrying about Nick Ciuffo. Reports on his hit tool are a bit concerning, as it seems to have taken a slight step back since his pre-draft reports. But he is still showing great raw power, and he has quickly shown to be an adept defender despite the fact he is not yet in his 20’s. If Ciuffo can hit for just an average amount contact, he still can be an above-average everyday catcher.