With the stroke of a pen, Nick Ciuffo cashed in on years of hard work when he signed with the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday and received a $1,974,700 signing bonus.
Ciuffo, 18, is a native of Mount Pleasant and attended Wando High School for two years before transferring to Lexington High. He was Tampa Bay’s first-round selection and the 21st overall pick in the Major League Baseball Draft earlier this month.
In addition to the signing bonus, Ciuffo’s contract includes a $96,000 college allowance. The team will cover the costs of eight semesters of college to include tuition, room and board, books and fees. The amount is based on what it would cost to attend the University of South Carolina.
In November, Ciuffo signed to play for South Carolina, which offered him a scholarship when he was 14.
Ciuffo said he plans to begin taking classes online later this year.
Ciuffo signed his contract at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and left immediately for Port Charlotte to join Tampa Bay’s rookie team of the Gulf Coast League.
“I’m ready to get on the field,” Ciuffo said Friday. “I’m not sure when I will play. It won’t be today and I don’t think it will be (Saturday). I have to get back in game shape and get my timing down.”
Ciuffo is the first catcher ever taken by the Rays with their first overall pick. He was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 22 overall prospect in the draft, No. 2 catcher, No. 1 out of South Carolina and No. 11 among high school players. He also was ranked as the No. 23 overall prospect by MLB.com.
Ciuffo hasn’t played baseball since he helped Lexington win the Class AAAA state championship on May 17. He was named the 2013 South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year after hitting .468 with five home runs and 33 RBI.
In 123 career high school games, he hit .401 with 11 home runs and 93 RBI.
Ciuffo will have to make two major adjustments as he begins his professional career.
“I have to get used to the wood bat,” he said. “But the biggest change will be communicating with Spanish-speaking pitchers. I’ve never done that. That’s the biggest adjustment.”
He played on the Mount Pleasant-based Diamond Devils select team with Taylor Guerrieri, the Rays’ first-round pick in 2011.
“The Tampa Bay organization is first class,” Ciuffo said. “I have been talking back and forth with Taylor Guerrieri, and he’s said nothing but good things about the organization. I’m ready to be a Ray.”