With their top pick in the wonky 2020 draft, the Rays jumped on a guy most teams didn’t do their homework on: RHP Nick Bitsko, the anticipated top draft choice for 2021 who opted to graduate early to accelerate his career.
Now the 17-year old who only pitched his Freshman and Sophomore seasons of High School appears to be on his way to Tampa Bay. The strategy of selecting the name other teams were not ready to drop in the draft is not much unlike how the Rays ended up with Matthew Liberatore a couple seasons ago. Bisko has a shorter track record, but could be something more.
Savvy with analytics and with front-of-the-rotation upside, there’s a lot to like. Here are some reviews from around the baseball world:
If you like to seek risk, Bitsko is your guy. As a prospect, he gives you lots of elements to make you feel better — like the precocious physicality, huge now stuff, dazzling Zoom interviews, quarantine remote training improvements — but this is still a prep arm with three innings of track record for most teams
.The Rays have the best farm system in baseball by a wide margin and also have the best-run organization in the game, so the process is in place to confidently make a decision like this and they can survive this pick if it goes sideways. Seeking risk makes perfect sense for Tampa Bay in this situation and it’s part of the reason they’re so good.
High school righthanders are inherently risky—even more so this year—but getting a pitcher with Bitsko’s talent at the back of the first round is good value for the Rays, who seem to know a thing or two about pitching.
Bitsko could be the most challenging player for teams to evaluate in the 2020 class. Previously the top-ranked prep player in the 2021 draft class, Bitsko announced that he would graduate early to enroll at Virginia, making him draft-eligible for 2020.
While Bitsko was at a few big events last summer—including East Coast Pro and USA Baseball’s National Team Development Program in Chicago—teams were watching him with the impression that they would have more than a year of evaluation remaining. The teams who bear down early on underclassmen will be in the best position with Bitsko for the 2020 draft, but it wasn’t hard to see his talent fit with the top prep arms in the class.
At East Coast Pro, Bitsko showed a fastball in the 92-96 mph range with a potentially plus curveball that had depth, power and impressive spin (2,100-2,500 rpm). With a physical, 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, a clean, overhead windup and good strike-throwing ability, Bitsko has plenty of classic starter’s attributes. He reportedly touched as high as 98 mph with his fastball over the offseason and is solidly in the class’ elite tier of prep arms.
Bitsko has a chance to be a top of the rotation-caliber arm.
Age, frame, velo, spin — Bitsko’s foundation is strong. He has mid-90s heat, it has backpin, he throws quality strikes with the fastball, he’s got a big strong frame, and he can spin a breaking ball.
One of the youngest pitchers in the draft because of his reclassification, Bitsko also has one of its best fastball/curveball combos.
Bitsko’s arm strength, curveball, and touch-and-feel command were on par with first round high school arms, though that demographic’s track record is scary and being devalued by teams.
Elsewhere in his draft chat, Longenhagen expected, “TB would have to mortgage the rest of their draft. Or at least a huge chunk” to take Bitsko, but once he was drafted wrote, “it’s very exciting. On talent, a steal. And they can cut in the comp round to make sure the deal gets done.”
Word was that the Rays wanted to be opportunistic here and they were, grabbing the extremely intriguing Bitsko. He reclassified from the 2021 Draft to 2020 in January and didn’t get a chance to pitch in a game this spring, but Tampa Bay saw enough to buy into his ace upside. He has a strong starter’s frame, a mid-90s fastball, and one of the best curveballs in the prep class.
Bitsko reclassified into this year’s draft and then didn’t get to pitch this spring, so there’s some risk here, as the Rays had fewer looks at him than other pitchers in the class, but he has two plus pitches in his fastball and curveball and mid-rotation upside if he stays healthy.
Law also projected Bitsko to “have gone in the teens” in 2021 had he stayed in that draft class.
One of the biggest wild cards in draft history... eye-popping videos and advanced metrics, including a fastball that has hit 98.5 mph with Justin Verlander-like spin efficiency... fits perfectly with Tampa’s long-time draft strategy of going with talent and upside — even with a risky selection like Bitsko.
All that data — including curveball metrics comparable to Chris Paddack’s and slider metrics comparable to Luis Castillo’s — make Bitsko one of the biggest upside arms in the draft. Yes, he is a long way from Chris Paddack or Luis Castillo, let alone a future Hall of Famer, but it will be fascinating to see how Tampa’s player development system works with him.
Additional Reading on Nick Bitsko:
- Meet the 2020 MLB draft’s man of mystery: A 17-year-old pitcher with enormous upside — Kiley McDaniel, ESPN
- Get to know Rays top pick Nick Bitsko through the eyes of his high school coach — Josh Tolentino, The Athletic
- Rays “excited” after drafting prep RHP Bitsko — Juan Toribio, RaysBaseball.com