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Thoughts on Tampa Bay Rays prospect Nick Ciuffo

September call-up to watch

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One September call-up to watch is Tampa Bay Rays catching prospect Nick Ciuffo. He’s started five games since being promoted to the major leagues on September 3rd, going 5-for-15 (.333) with a double and a home run so far.

Ciuffo was rated as a Grade C+ prospect pre-season but didn’t find a spot on the Tampa Bay Rays Top 20 Prospects for 2018 list (the list of 20 players went to 26 in this deep system) and didn’t get a write-up. Since he’s in the majors now let’s take a quick peek.

The Rays drafted Ciuffo in the first round in 2013 from high school in Lexington, South Carolina. At the time he was viewed as an impressive power hitter who needed more defensive polish but had a chance to grow into being a regular catcher; Baseball America compared him to A.J. Pierzynski.

Ciuffo’s bat hasn’t developed as much as originally expected. Although the raw left-side power he showed in high school is still there, it hasn’t manifested itself in games as often as the Rays hoped: his career-best mark in homers is seven, his best SLG is .385. He hasn’t hit for high averages either and his walk rate tailed off in Triple-A this year, where he hit .258/.295/.376 overall. He’s been more aggressive this season but it didn’t boost his power production.

On the other hand, Ciuffo’s glove has been better than expected. He’s cleaned up his footwork and receiving since high school, with steadily declining passed ball and error rates. He’s effective against runners, throwing out 43% this year and 46% over his whole career. He does have a 50-game drug-of-abuse suspension on his resume but it isn’t held against him and his makeup is considered a positive overall, no pun intended.

Ciuffo’s defense and ability to hit left-handed will likely keep him employed as a platoon and reserve catcher for years to come. He should be a fine role player. That said, Ciuffo is still just 23 years old and I think there is some additional offensive potential here, though it may not fully manifest until he gets into his late 20s.

He’ll probably hit 20 homers for the Cubs in the year 2022.