ST. PETERSBURG -- Developing catchers has never been a strong suit for the Rays organization, which can be attributed, in part, to the talent they have had to develop.
Hoping to rectify that situation, the Rays made South Carolina high school backstop Nick Ciuffo their first pick -- the 21st -- of Thursday's First-Year Player Draft.
"We like his tools and [his] chance to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues," scouting director R.J. Harrison said. "He's a high school kid that's going to start his journey and work his way through the Minor Leagues. He's got a plus arm, [he's an] average defender, and we like his bat and power. And he's a tough kid. We like the kid."
|1||HOU||RHP Mark Appel|
|2||CHC||3B Kris Bryant|
|3||COL||RHP Jonathan Gray|
|4||MIN||RHP Kohl Stewart|
|5||CLE||OF Clint Frazier|
|6||MIA||3B Colin Moran|
|7||BOS||LHP Trey Ball|
|8||KC||SS Hunter Dozier|
|9||PIT||OF Austin Meadows|
|10||TOR||RHP Phillip Bickford|
|11||NYM||1B Dominic Smith|
|12||SEA||3B D.J. Peterson|
|13||SD||OF Hunter Renfroe|
|14||PIT||C Reese McGuire|
|15||ARI||RHP Braden Shipley|
|16||PHI||SS J.P. Crawford|
|17||CWS||SS Tim Anderson|
|18||LAD||RHP Chris Anderson|
|19||STL||LHP Marco Gonzales|
|20||DET||RHP Jonathon Crawford|
|21||TB||C Nick Ciuffo|
|22||BAL||RHP Hunter Harvey|
|23||TEX||RHP Alex Gonzalez|
|24||OAK||CF Billy McKinney|
|25||SF||SS Christian Arroyo|
|26||NYY||3B Eric Jagielo|
|27||CIN||CF Phillip Ervin|
|28||STL||LHP Rob Kaminsky|
|29||TB||RHP Ryne Stanek|
|30||TEX||SS Travis Demeritte|
|31||ATL||RHP Jason Hursh|
|32||NYY||CF Aaron Judge|
|33||NYY||LHP Ian Clarkin|
Although the Rays insist they adhere to the philosophy of drafting the best player available, they were pleased to bring into the organization some quality at the catcher position.
"I think catchers have a really high upside and a really low downside, just because it's tough to develop them," said Andrew Friedman, executive vice president of baseball operations. "There are a lot of really good catching prospects that haven't made it. But the ones that do carry significant value on a Major League team. The fact that he also hits left-handed is something that certainly helped the profile."
With their second pick of the first round (No. 29), the Rays took right-hander Ryne Stanek from Arkansas, and they finished the day by selecting high school shortstop Riley Unroe from Desert Ridge High School in Mesa, Ariz., with the 60th pick
Ciuffo went into the Draft feeling a good vibe from the Rays.
"I really wasn't expecting much in the earlier part of the round, and I kind of had a feeling [Tampa Bay] was where I was going to go," Ciuffo said.
Ciuffo, 18, is 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, and bats left-handed. The product of Lexington High School has made a commitment to play at South Carolina.
Area scout Brian Hickman called Ciuffo "a tremendous kid."
"It's an easy conversation," Hickman said. "When you get to know this guy, you feel like you've known him for your whole life. He's just one of those types of people."
As for his catching ability, Hickman called Ciuffo "a student of the game."
"He loves to talk the game," Hickman said. "We use this [expression] from time to time: The kid's a baseball rat. That's what he is. He loves the game. ... The guy cannot get enough baseball, and his work ethic is just off the charts. He's just a tremendous kid. I think when everybody gets to meet this young man, they're going to be able to see that right away. He's just a different human being."
Ciuffo is impressive at the plate and behind it, and he projects to be able to hit at the next level for both average and power. His arm is considered his best defensive tool, and though he need to continue to work on his catching, he is projected to remain at the position.
"We think he's a catcher, we do," Harrison sad. "That's one of the major reasons we took him. ... I just think he's athletic behind the plate. He has the good arm. He throws like a catcher. It's not a long, slinging arm action. He looks like a catcher. I don't know how to explain it any better than that. He's a strong-bodied kid. He's got bat speed. ... There's just a lot of things to like about him."
Save for Mark Thomas at Double-A Montgomery and Luke Maile at Class A Bowling Green, the Rays are fairly thin at the catching position. Ciuffo was asked if he thinks the situation would allow him to move more quickly to the Major Leagues.
"It's hard to say," Ciuffo said. "I wouldn't really say they haven't had bad success when it comes to developing catchers. I'm not really sure about who they've had in the past. But I can guarantee everybody in Tampa Bay and everybody in the state of Florida one thing. I can't promise you that I'm going to get to the big leagues, but I can promise you there won't be another catcher coming out of this Draft that's going to work harder than me to get to the big leagues."
One motivation for Ciuffo reaching Tropicana Field quickly is the prospect of catching reigning American League Cy Young Award winner David Price.
"It's a lot of fun to catch real good pitchers, and I've watched David Price over and over again, even when he was in college," Ciuffo said. "He's one of the best pitchers in the game. I want to get there as fast as possible and see if I can catch him."
Day 2 of the Draft continues with Rounds 3-10, streamed live on MLB.com on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m. And Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Saturday, starting at 1 p.m.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
In the Pipeline:
The Rays have been thin at the catching position for years, so there's a chance Ciuffo can move quickly through the organization. He has a quality bat, the necessary catching tools and a quality makeup.
Stanek profiled as one of the top college arms in the 2013 Draft class, one who was coming on strong after a bit of a slow start to his junior season. He has a power arm, reaching the mid-90s, and maintains that velocity throughout his starts. In addition to a fastball that is said to have good sink and run to it, he has two breaking balls, a curve and a slider. Given the fact that he is a college pitcher, he has a good chance to move quickly through the organization.
The speedy and athletic Unroe is the son of Tim Unroe, who played in the Major Leagues from 1995 to 2000. An athletic shortstop is always a welcome addition to an organization because even if he doesn't make it as a shortstop, there are a lot of places in the field to move to.
Rays take advantage of Stanek's availability
ST. PETERSBURG -- When the Rays were making their second selection of the first round on Thursday, they found a name they didn't expect to still be available: Ryne Stanek.
The hard-throwing right-hander from the University of Arkansas had been projected as a Top 10 pick, but the Rays grabbed him 29th.
"I would have liked to have gone a little earlier, but I'm not too disappointed, because I got taken in the first round," Stanek said. "And Tampa's a great place and a good place for right-handed pitchers and pitchers in general to go and develop. It's really a good fit for me."
The Rays then finished their first-day work by selecting switch-hitting shortstop Riley Unroe from Desert Ridge High School in Mesa, Ariz., at No. 60.
Before finalizing the Stanek pick, scouting director R.J. Harrison made one final call to Arkansas pitching coach Dave Jorn.
Harrison and Jorn played together in the Cardinals organization.
"I said, 'Any reason we wouldn't want to take Ryne?' and he said, 'Absolutely not, I think his best days are ahead of him,'" Harrison said. "That made me feel pretty good. Because that's what we're looking for."
So why did Stanek fall to the Rays? Harrison had no reasonable explanation.
"It's happened this way the last three years for us," he said. "We've had guys that have fallen to us. We were talking about it the other day. You have to be ready for anything that might happen. So we were prepared for this."
Turns out the Rays have had their eyes on Stanek for a long time.
"We liked this kid in high school," Harrison said. "We have a good track record with him. We watched him in high school, and we watched him for three years at Arkansas. We feel like we got a really good pitching prospect."
When asked to break down Stanek, Harrison offered an impressive assessment.
"Fastball, slider," he said. "He's got a live fastball. Velocity-wise, we've seen him up to 97, 98 mph. He comes from a couple of different angles. He has a loose, whippy arm action. Good life to the fastball. Big slider. He'll show you a curveball and a change."
Andrew Friedman, executive vice president of baseball operations, noted that one of the benefits of taking a college pitcher is the premise that he can make it to the Show quicker.
"In theory, they can move a little faster than some of our high school guys," Friedman said. "He's competed in the SEC, [has] two power pitches; [he's] a guy we think is going to miss bats and be able to move fairly quickly, at least relatively so.
"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."
Stanek sees himself as a starter because he's able to throw four pitches for strikes and his mound mentality.
"I just feel I'm better suited to start for a team," he said.
As for the prospect of the Arkansas pitcher one day pitching at Tropicana Field, two hours south of Gainesville, the home of SEC rival Florida, Stanek would like nothing better.
"No, it's right in SEC country," he said with a chuckle. "I don't have a problem with it at all."
Unroe is the son of former Major Leaguer Tim Unroe, who played for the Brewers, Angels and Braves from 1995 through 2000.
Most scouts feel that given Unroe's speed, arm, range and good bat speed from both sides of the plate, he can remain at shortstop. He is committed to attending the University of Southern California.
Unroe's connections to Rays include Maddon
ST. PETERSBURG -- Riley Unroe already had at least two connections to the Rays before they picked him in the second round of the First-Year Player Draft on Thursday night.
Unroe, a switch-hitting shortstop out of Desert Ridge High School in Arizona, is a friend of Travis Flores, who was picked by Tampa Bay in the 11th round of the 2010 Draft. But the more interesting connection comes through his father, former Major Leaguer Tim Unroe, who played for the Brewers, Angels and Braves from 1995-2000. And who was Tim Unroe's bench coach on the 1999 Angels? Rays manager Joe Maddon.
"He did tell me that," Unroe said Friday morning, a day after being picked 60th overall. "He was excited, of course. He had to deal with making the phone calls all day. It was kind of a stressful day, so it was a relief when my name was called. ... It was exciting getting drafted. It's pretty cool, and I'm really glad I got an opportunity."
It's also a unique opportunity in the sense that Unroe, ranked by MLB.com as the No. 92 overall Draft prospect, can choose to begin the same career his father started 21 years ago.
"He taught me everything I know," Unroe said. "Anything from keeping my butt down on a ground ball to keeping my hands through the zone as well as mentally preparing for a game and how to handle myself during a game and after a game."
Unroe said he can play "wherever," but the biggest reason he moved up Draft boards this year was the fact that more scouts believe he'll remain a shortstop for the long haul. If given a chance to play shortstop in the Rays' organization, Unroe said he'd "make it count."
He also came on strong with his bat during his senior year, posting a .553 average with 10 homers, 14 doubles and five triples to go along with 59 RBIs, 54 runs scored and 25 stolen bases in 29 attempts.
"There's been reports that I didn't have power, but then I worked on some things with my swing and then was able to put up some power numbers," Unroe said. "As far as what I bring to the table, I believe I'm a five-tool player because I steal bases, I hit home runs, I can get on base and be a table-setter and I can play anywhere on the field and be good at it."
The one thing possibly standing in the way of Unroe joining the Rays is his commitment to the University of Southern California. Several reports have cast doubt on whether Unroe would accept the slot value assigned to the 60th overall pick ($927,500) when he has a chance to play at USC. That could provide him with some leverage in his negotiations with the Rays leading up to the July 12 deadline, and Unroe acknowledged the process of weighing his options will be difficult.
"USC was really confident in me when I made the decision to commit to them, and I feel really comfortable about going there. To give it up, a full ride to USC for the next three or four years, it'll be tough," Unroe said. "But I've got to weigh my options and talk to my parents and see what the best option for my future is."
Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said the team believes Unroe will be an up-the-middle player in some regard, whether it's at shortstop, center field or second base, and they like the combination of his Major League bloodline plus his natural baseball instincts. And he didn't sound too concerned about the task of luring Unroe away from USC.
"We're optimistic we're going to be able to do that," Harrison said. "But like my wife says, tell me about it when you have him signed."