The Cincinnati Reds have signed catcher Nick Ciuffo to a minor league contract. The 24-year-old was released by the Tampa Bay Rays in late June. He was on their 40-man roster, but was on the injured list after having surgery on his thumb earlier in the month. As noted by MLB Trade Rumors Steve Adams, players that are injured can’t be passed through outright waivers, so when the Rays needed a 40-man roster spot they either needed to try and place someone else on waivers or they could release Ciuffo. They chose the latter.
The Rays selected Nick Ciuffo with the 21st overall pick in the 1st round of the 2013 Major League Baseball draft out of Lexington High School in South Carolina. He worked his way up through their system slowly, but reached the Major Leagues as a September call up last season. He played in 16 games and hit .189/.262/.297. This season he began the year back in Triple-a, but saw two call ups with Tampa Bay. On April 20th he got one at-bat against Boston before heading back to Triple-A Durham. Then in May he got five at-bats between May 8th and May 10th before being sent back to the minors.
In a weird twist of fate, the last game that Nick Ciuffo played in this season was against the Louisville Bats. In the bottom of the 3rd inning he was caught stealing second base to end the inning. As he got up he grabbed at his thumb for a second, but walked into the dugout. He came out for the top of the 4th inning and caught the first two pitches against Blake Trahan, but the second pitch led to a reaction and the trainer and manager came out to check on him. The talk didn’t last more than 5 seconds. Ciuffo left the game and he hasn’t played since.
When it comes to looking at a scouting report for Nick Ciuffo there are two different sides to it. On the defensive side, the reports are strong. He’s a very good defensive catcher. His ability to block the ball, throw runners out, frame pitches – all get high grades. And he’s also known to work well with his pitching staff. In 2019 he had thrown out 42% of attempted runners between Durham and Tampa Bay.
But offensively there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. His career line in the minors is .248/.291/.341. At only one stop in his career has he ever topped a .300 on-base percentage. That came in 2017 at Double-A with the Montgomery Biscuits when he was 22-years-old. Catchers bats tend to develop later than other position players due to the role they play in the pitching development (and their own catching development) versus other positions on the field.
There’s some bat speed from the left-handed hitter. And he’s got some strength, too. In batting practice he can show solid raw power, and it’s possible he could tap into that one day in the future. He’s struggled to make contact at the Triple-A level, and for the most part in his career, he hasn’t drawn many walks, either. As a catcher the bat only needs to much if you can defend well and buy strikes with framing. But for Ciuffo, his bat isn’t there yet. More contact, more walks, and more power – some combination of those things, is going to be needed for him to get there. For now, though, he’s solid depth as a catcher you could call up as a backup if needed.
His thumb surgery took place in early June. He’s going to be on the injured list immediately in the minor leagues. The timeline for his return when the surgery was announced by Tampa Bay was 8-10 weeks. That likely puts him out of action until at least the beginning of August.