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Rays Top 50 Prospects: No. 27, Nick Ciuffo

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Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Scottsdale Scorpions at Peoria Javelinas Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The next prospect we’ll check in with is one that’s faced a bit of controversy this off-season but was ranked firmly into the top 30 of most Rays prospect lists nonetheless.

No.27, C Nick Ciuffo, 22 yrs old

Born: Mar 7th, 1995 in Mount Pleasant, SC

Height/Weight: 6’1” 205 lbs Bats/Throws: L/R

Signed: by the Rays after selecting him in the 1st rd 21st overall for $1,972,200

Twitter handle: @nciuffo14

Twitter profile statement:Catcher in the Rays organization #playin4kennedy @FrontlineAM athlete”

Baseball America Rankings

  • Ranked as the 21st best Rays prospect for both 2016 and 2017
  • Ranked as the 9th best Appy League prospect in 2014
  • Rated Best Defensive Catcher in the Tampa Bay Rays system after the 2017 season

DRB Writers ranking

  • High: 19th
  • Low: 41st

Nick Ciuffo: Abilities

  • Soft hand and good receiver
  • Above-average arm strength and accuracy
  • Framing gets mixed reviews, but positive overall
  • Developing bat that’s showing signs of life

Scouting grades ‘17 (Pipeline): Hit: 45 | Pwr: 40 | Run: 30 | Arm: 60 | Fld: 55 | Overall: 45

  • Abilities notes: The profile Ciuffo holds already has his highly rated enough to earn a job as a backup down the road. The only questions remaining at this point are whether his defensive abilities will dominate enough to allow him to become a mainstay, or will the bat show enough production to push him there instead?

Joined the Rays by way of....

The draft where the Rays went after Ciuffo hard, making him the 2nd catcher drafted that year behind only Pirates selection Reese McGuire (14th). Both were high-risk and high-reward guys that are set to get a taste of MLB in the very near future. It’ll be interesting to compare the two’s progress down the road and see how it all shakes out.

On being selected by the Rays, Nick had this to say,

“The Tampa Bay organization is first class,” Ciuffo said. “I have been talking back and forth with Taylor Guerrieri, and he’s said nothing but good things about the organization. I’m ready to be a Ray.”

Latest Transaction: invited non-roster C Nick Ciuffo to spring training, Dec 14th, 2017

Note - Ciuffo unfortunately is suspended for the first 50 games of 2018 after failing his second drug test for Marijuana use. Marc Topkin has the article to read on the subject here. The most notable quote would be this one,

“The toughest conversation I’ve ever had to have,” Nick said Tuesday as the Rays opened camp. “It was tough to get through. About five seconds in, I started crying.”

As Nick battled the tears, Tony fought back the rage.

”Initially, I was shocked. I was angry. I was hurt. All those things,” Tony said later Tuesday from his Charleston, S.C., office. “Basically, I was floored.”

Since then, Nick’s taken a very mature and accountable approach to the subject, noting the following on Twitter, with my response included,

Earned an immediate like from Nick and truly hope it’s something that lights a fire inside him to prove he can do better. It’s a rough thing to go through, but sometimes adversity brings out the best in a person.

Moving on!

Facts, Honors, and Awards

  • Played with the Australian Baseball League Bandits in 2015-16 and he enjoyed the experience tremendously, as noted by Baseball America’s Alexis Brudnicki
  • Made the mid-season all-star teams in both the MWL (2015) and FSL (2016)
  • Made the Post-Season all-star team in the Southern League for 2017 along with Justin Williams, and previous members being Willy Adames, Jake Bauers, Chih-Wei Hu, and Ryan Yarbrough who all made the 2016 team
  • After not being selected in the rule 5 draft, Ciuffo noted that he was being invited to camp and had this to say about his future,

“From this point on, every season is the most important season of my career,”

  • Apparently Nick has both a hydration and cleanliness fetish, as Chris Betts has been tweeting about both in recent months,

Stats

Nick Ciuffo 2017

GP 102
GP 102
PA 417
AB 371
Hits 91
Doubles 29
Triples 1
Home Runs 7
RBI 42
SB (CS) 2 (0)
AVG 0.245
OBP 0.319
SLG 0.385
OPS 0.704
BB% 10.1 %
SO% 22.8 %
ISO 0.140
BAbip 0.308
wOBA 0.322
wRC+ 102

Stats Notes: The most encouraging part of Nick’s 2017 at the plate was the combination of career highs in wOBA (which was 25 points higher than ever before) and wRC+ (20 points higher). Reaching career highs during your first season facing AA is very notable since it’s normally where some prospects fall back some. In fairness, Nick had a lot of work to do from where his stats stood in 2016, but that leap forward was exactly what everyone was hoping to see and makes for an intriguing 2018.

Interesting Comparison: Francisco Cervelli

  • Although Cervelli is a RHB, they’re approximately the same stature and Cervelli also received best defensive catcher while in the Yankees system at the same age but was not top ranked due to questions about his bat. He also earned the “backup” label before finding a spot in Pittsburgh who traded Justin Wilson for his services and signed him long-term thereafter.
  • The comparison of where their bats stand to this point (age) in their development is nowhere near exact as Cervelli flew through many levels of the Yankees system in 2008 and had a big year at the plate. But the signs were there that he may relapse, and he did in 2009 - to a degree. They essentially fell a level below what Ciuffo managed in AA in 2017, with a .271 wOBA/60 wRC+ in AA and .315 wOBA/92 wRC+ in AAA.
  • The point is that Cervelli got the call despite struggling some at the plate that season based on his defensive play first, and that’s what is expected of Ciuffo. He’ll get the call and could take a while to earn a starting (#1) role, but he’s likely to get that chance to prove himself because his defensive abilities are strong enough, just as Cervelli’s were at the same point.

Notes for 2018 and beyond

The Rays have tried for so long to obtain a franchise catcher internally that many have decided to believe that it’s not happening any time soon. You can read through last season’s Top Prospects by Positions - Catcher article that ran through the many high pick and price investments the Rays made at the position and see how focused they have been on that position historically.

What I’d point to in terms of Nick Ciuffo is that he’s the first to arrive out of those investments and hold value to the team within one or two years. While we wait for David Rodriguez, Chris Betts, Brett Sullivan, Rene Pinto and Ronaldo Hernandez to march up the ranks, Ciuffo represents the best internal option and with a good showing when he returns to play - presumably in AAA - he could earn a look in September and/or in 2019.

Once he returns to play, the things we’ll be looking for include how his bat holds up in AAA and whether he can hold runners at a better rate than he managed in 2017 (26% CS). If those two items get check marks, you’re sure to see Nick at the Trop in short-order, because with his defensive grades, he’s already on the right track.

And at least we now know he’ll be very well hydrated - thanks to Chris Betts!

Nick Ciuffo: Spotlight Videos

We’ll kick off the videos with the AFL in 2016 and follow it up with two from 2017.

Recap and links of previously listed DRB Top 50 Rays Prospects

*Note, these rankings are going to be adjusted shortly as we add prospects acquired in trade