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Ciuffo impresses early at NHSI

Allan Simpson

Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ciuffo Gives Scouts Plenty of Reason
To Overlook Tough Weather Conditions

CARY, N.C.—Despite temperatures in the mid-40s and a brisk wind that made playing conditions less than ideal for the first game of this year’s National High School Invitational, more than 100 scouts in attendance, including a number of scouting directors, found plenty of reason to warm to the occasion.

Lexington (S.C.) High catcher Nick Ciuffo (pronounced SHOE-fo) was the feature attraction and showed scouts why he is considered one of the top catching prospects in this year’s prep class, though he went just 1-for-3 with an RBI while leading his school, ranked 12
th nationally by Perfect Game, to an easy 4-0 win over Florida Christian High.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Ciuffo is currently ranked No. 18 by PG among the top prep prospects for this year’s draft, though grades out as only the fourth catcher on the list behind Reese McGuire of Kentwood High in Kent, Wash., Jon Denney of Yukon (Okla.) High and Zack Collins of American Heritage High in Plantation, Fla.

Eustis High catcher Chris Okey, ranked No. 27 overall and fifth among catchers, is also participating in this week’s 16-team NHSI, sponsored by USA Baseball.

But depending on which scout was asked Wednesday, Ciuffo may be at the head of the class among high-school catching prospects for this year’s draft.

I think he’s the best catcher in the country, and I’m a bit surprised that he’s not ranked No. 1,” one scout said. “He may not have quite as much raw power as a couple of the guys he’s competing with, but I think he’s the most well-rounded of all the catchers in this year’s class. His arm sets him apart.”

Ciuffo, who has attended a dozen Perfect Game tournaments and showcase events during his high-school career, has a strong, accurate arm, and it was on display Wednesday as he easily gunned down the only Florida Christian runner that attempted to steal against him, nabbing him at second by as much as 6-8 feet. He generally has pop times in the 1.8-1.85 second range, and doesn’t hesitate to showcase his arm, especially throwing behind runners.

The remainder of Ciuffo’s game defensively is also solid. He is athletic and mobile behind the plate, and his ability to take charge sets him apart from most of his peers.

There was little question that Ciuffo was the leader of his team, both in his words and actions. He also has a very mature approach to the game and was quick to deflect praise for Lexington’s win Wednesday to senior lefthander Josh Reagan, a fellow University of South Carolina recruit who went the distance and blanked Florida Christian on four hits, all singles, while walking one. He threw 89 pitches in all, 65 for strikes, though his fastball was typically in the 83-84 mph range.

He wasn’t overpowering, and probably can’t break a pane of glass,” Ciuffo said of Reagan, “but he’s a pitcher, not a thrower, and I’d put him up there with any pitcher in the country with his ability to locate. I just put up my glove, and he hits it every time. He’s a lot like Michael Roth (former South Carolina All-American lefthander) the way he can drop down, mix his pitches and throw strikes.”

While the cold, windy conditions that have plagued most of the eastern half of the country almost the entire spring were evident again Wednesday, causing most scouts to bundle up warmly, Ciuffo never let the elements affect any phase of his game, and hasn’t to date.

Through his first 10 games this spring for unbeaten Lexington High, the lefthanded-hitting Ciuffo was batting .500-3-13, and had walked eight times while striking out just once in 28 at-bats. Opposing pitchers have consistently worked around him, and he was retired twice on Wednesday on two hard hit balls to the first baseman, on pitches that got in on his hands. He normally has little trouble turning on balls with a loose, extended swing.

How Ciuffo performs over the remaining three days of the National High School Invitational, which has brought together a large delegation of scouts and nine teams in Perfect Game’s ranking of the nation’s Top 50 high school clubs, may go a long way to determining where Ciuffo factors into this year’s draft—and whether he can overtake any or all of the three prep catchers currently ranked ahead of him.

But it was obvious Wednesday that he made a strong first impression.

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