Rays go catcher, pitcher with two first-round picks
JUN 06, 2013 9:31p ET
The trend has been mentioned in recent weeks: None of the Rays’ first-round picks in the past five years have played in the majors for them. Catcher Nick Ciuffo (No. 21 overall) and right-hander Ryne Stanek (No. 29) were added to the system as two young talents whom the Rays envision becoming contributors.
Ciuffo, an 18-year-old from Lexington (S.C.) High School, was named the 2013 South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year after hitting .468 with five home runs, 33 RBI and a .562 on-base percentage. He hit .401 with 11 home runs and 93 RBI in 123 career high school games, and his draft position is the highest the Rays have ever selected a catcher.
Meanwhile, Stanek, an Arkansas product, went 10-2 with a 1.39 ERA in 16 starts as a junior this season. For his career, he went 22-8 with a 2.55 ERA in 48 appearances (45 starts).
“I was so excited,” said Ciuffo, who’s 6-foot-1, 205 pounds. “My heart was beating so fast. My hands were shaking. It’s kind of like a blur. I was so excited. There were so many emotions going through my head that really, I can’t remember.”
Ciuffo’s selection represents symmetry of sorts for him. At no later than age 7, he recalls visiting Disney World with his family. During the trip, he and his father, Tony, made the drive from the Orlando, Fla., area to Tropicana Field for Ciuffo’s first major league game.
“The real vacation for us,” Ciuffo said, “was to go to Tropicana Field and see some Major League Baseball.”
Ciuffo’s addition is interesting for two reasons. First, he represents an area of need for the Rays, who have historically had trouble developing dependable catching prospects. Secondly, Ciuffo, a South Carolina commitment, was hesitant to say how the Rays’ call would affect his interest in the Gamecocks.
“I can’t really answer that question at this point,” Ciuffo said. “There are still things that have to be done. All I can say right now is that I’m very excited to be a first-round draft pick for the Tampa Bay Rays. … I’m looking forward to the next couple weeks ahead of me.”
Said R.J. Harrison, Rays scouting director: “We like his tools and his chance to be an every day catcher in the big leagues. He’s a big high school kid who is going to start his journey and work his way through the minor leagues. He’s got a plus arm … and we like his bat. He’s a tough kid.”
Meanwhile, Stanek is widely considered as a high-ceiling prospect from the Southeastern Conference. The Seattle Mariners selected him in the third round, 99th overall, in the 2010 draft. Baseball America ranked him as the fifth-best right-hander in this year’s draft, No. 13 overall, and he was expected among some to go higher.
However, Stanek sees opportunity with the Rays, and Tampa Bay senses potential in him. At 6-4, 190 pounds, has a fastball that ranges from 92-98 mph. Scouts have said his mechanics need polishing, and some envision him as a closer or setup man.
“I would have liked to go earlier, but I can’t say I’m too disappointed,” Stanek said. “I still got taken in the first round, and Tampa is a great place, and it’s a good place for right-handed pitchers and pitchers in general to go and develop. So I think it’s a good fit for me.”
Said Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ executive vice president of baseball operations: “I think that’s one of the benefits of taking a college pitcher, is that in theory they can move a little bit faster than we’ve tended to do with some of our high school guys. He has competed in the SEC, two power pitches, a guy that we think can miss bats and be able to move fairly quickly. … I don’t think we really fast-track anyone, but on a relative scale I think he has a chance to get here pretty quickly.”
Later Thursday night, the Rays took shortstop Riley Unroe of Desert Ridge High (Mesa, Ariz.) with the 60th overall pick.
Overall, it was a day for potential, for the introduction of paths only beginning. In time, the Rays hope their first-round selections reach – and thrive at – Tropicana Field.
You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at email@example.com.
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