The baseball world got a glimpse of Nick Ciuffo’s playful personality Thursday night when he wiggled his ears and paid tribute to his grandfather on national TV.
That personality, and his baseball talent, convinced the Tampa Bay Rays to make the 18-year-old catcher from Mount Pleasant the 21st pick in the 2013 Major League Baseball draft Thursday night.
Ciuffo, 6-1 and 210 pounds, must decide whether to accept a first-round signing bonus from the Rays -- slotted at more than $1.9 million -- or report to South Carolina in the fall to begin a college career.
Most observers consider it a forgone conclusion that Ciuffo will turn pro, likely beginning his minor-league career this summer with the Rays’ rookie league team in Princeton, W.Va.
“It’s a lot of fun to catch really good pitchers,” Ciuffo told the MLB Network when asked about Tampa Bay star David Price. “I’ve watched David Price over and over again, and he’s one of the best pitchers in the game. I want to get there as fast as possible so I can catch him.”
Ciuffo, who starred in high school at Wando and Lexington, spent the day in New York with family and friends preparing for the draft, including a visit to Yankee Stadium.
When MLB commissioner Bud Selig called his name shortly after 9 p.m., Ciuffo put on a MLB hat and Rays jersey and shook hands with Selig. During an interview, he showed of his ear-wiggling talent and spoke of his late grandfather, Vince Bertolini, who was a fixture on the youth baseball fields of Mount Pleasant.
Ciuffo said he “kind of had a feeling” that he’d go to Tampa Bay, which drafted his friend, pitcher Taylor Guerrieri, with the 24th pick in 2011.
“Taylor’s told me they have a great organization,” Ciuffo said. “I’m looking forward to getting there to start playing.”
Ciuffo led Lexington to the Class AAAA state title this year, batting .468 with five home runs and 33 runs batted-in. He was named the Gatorade state player of the year.
He committed to South Carolina when he was 14, before ever playing a varsity high school game.
Ciuffo is the first first-round pick from the Lowcountry since Citadel pitcher Asher Wojciechowski of Beaufort in 2010, and the highest Lowcountry pick since Justin Smoak of Stratford High School went to the Rangers with the 11th pick in 2008.
Video from mlb.com