A signing bonus of almost $2 million from the Tampa Bay Rays was too good to turn down.
So, former Lexington High catcher Nick Ciuffo signed with the Rays on Friday.
Ciuffo, the No. 21 pick in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft earlier this month, will receive a $1,974,700 bonus, which matches the slot value recommended by the MLB for the pick, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Ciuffo, 18, had signed to play baseball at South Carolina but instead will go pro. He led Lexington to the Class 4A baseball state championship while hitting .468 with five homers and 33 RBIs and was named the S.C. Gatorade player of the year.
Ciuffo will report to the Rays’ rookie-level Gulf Coast League minor league club. The Gulf Coast Rays begin their regular season in Port Charlotte, Fla., on Friday, and Ciuffo hopes to start playing next week.
Ciuffo is the first catcher the Rays have selected with their top pick.
He was offered a scholarship by USC at age 14.
Ciuffo told the Tampa Bay Times the decision to sign was easy because of how impressed he was by the Rays organization, all the good things he heard from former teammate Taylor Guerrieri (who attended Spring Valley High) and the financial terms the Rays offered.
“With the slot value where it was, it’s really just too good of a deal to turn down,” Ciuffo told the paper. “I’ve been on the edge of my seat since I heard my named called (at MLB Network studios in the draft).’’
Ciuffo said his two biggest adjustments will be using the wood bat and communicating with Spanish-speaking pitchers.
He said he plans to buy a new car with the bonus and save the rest.
Matthew Pouliot, in Baseball America, said of Ciuffo after the draft:
“The second high school catcher to go, Ciuffo has a promising left-handed bat with quite a bit of power potential. He’s still rather raw behind the plate, but he has a good arm and the tools to turn into an adept catcher in time.”