Five good things about the Tampa Bay Rays selecting Nick Mount Pleasant native Nick Ciuffo with the 21st pick in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft Thursday night:
- Stockpile of young talent. Ciuffo, an 18-year-old catcher, is about to join a farm system with upside (assuming he spurns his commitment to South Carolina and signs for an expected $2 million bonus). Baseball America before this season put the Rays fourth in their organizational talent rankings (behind the Cardinals, Mariners and Rangers). That bodes well for those future fights in the rugged AL East.
- Proximity. The Rays’ Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg is the second-closest big league ballpark to South Carolina after Turner Field in Atlanta. Nice for friends and family making travel plans.
- Palmetto State connection. The Rays have three prominent players from South Carolina in their minor league system, including their previous two first-round picks. Pitcher Taylor Guerrieri of North Augusta, the Rays’ 2011 first-round pick, is Tampa Bay’s No. 2 prospect and Ciuffo’s former Diamond Devils travel team teammate. Third baseman Richie Schaffer was the Rays’ 2012 first-round pick out of Clemson. Outfielder Marty Gantt of North Augusta played at the College of Charleston.
- Void at catcher. For all the Rays’ young talent, catcher was a “need area” in the draft. Their top 10 prospects list didn’t include a catcher – until Thursday night.
- That rugged AL East. Ciuffo, along with friends and family, will get to enjoy high-profile battles with the Yankees and Red Sox. And probably a comparison to Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, the All-Star and Stratford High School graduate.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff