ST. PETERSBURG The Tampa Bay Rays went the battery route with their pair of first-round picks in Thursday’s first-year player draft. With the 21st overall pick the Rays selected high school catcher Nick Ciuffo, who has committed to play at the University of South Carolina next season. With the 29th overall pick Tampa Bay went with power right-handed pitcher Ryne Stanek, who just completed his junior season at the University of Arkansas. Ciuffo was the second-highest rated available catcher by Baseball America, and the second catcher selected in the first round. “I can guarantee everybody in Tampa Bay one thing, I may not make it to the major leagues but I can promise no catcher is going to work harder than me to get to the big leagues,’’ Ciuffo said.
The Rays hope they finally found their backstop by selecting Ciuffo with the first of their two first-round picks. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound high school catcher from Lexington High School in Lexington, S.C., was ranked as the 20th overall prospect available by Baseball America. As a senior he hit .468 with five home runs and 33 RBI. Baseball America’s scouting report on Ciuffo states: “He is a good receiver with a strong arm and quick release. He plays with energy and has matured into a leader on the field for a nationally ranked team. He projects to hit for at least average power and draws comparisons to A.J. Pierzynski for his tools and competitive edge. He committed to South Carolina before recording a varsity at-bat and has excellent baseball aptitude.’’