NEW YORK - Nick Ciuffo, the high school catcher from South Carolina taken 21st overall in the Major League Baseball amateur draft this month, signed Friday morning with the Tampa Bay Rays. "It was too good of a deal to turn down," Ciuffo said during a conference call. The Rays offered Ciuffo a $1,974,700 signing bonus, the amount suggested for that slot by Major League Baseball. Ciuffo, 18, will begin his career in Port Charlotte with the Rays' rookie-level Gulf Coast League team.
He joined the conference call from the Rays' spring training complex and was watching his new team play as he answered questions. Ciuffo said he will need a few days to get back into playing shape, having last played in a game in mid-May when he helped lead Lexington High to the South Carolina Class 4A championship. He batted .468 with five home runs, 33 RBI, a .723 slugging percentage and a .562 on-base percentage during his senior season and was named the state's Player of the Year. He is the first catcher from South Carolina selected in the first round of the draft. He said he talked with Taylor Guerrieri, the Rays' first-round pick in 2011 and a friend from youth baseball, about the organization and said Guerrieri had nothing but good things to say about the Rays. Ciuffo said he's more than ready to begin his professional career. "I've been on the edge of my seat since I heard my name called," he said.