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Nick Ciuffo Regains Rays' Trust

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A season that couldn’t have started worse for 23-year-old catcher Nick Ciuffo ended up pretty good.

Left off the 40-man roster last offseason and, somewhat surprisingly, passed over in the Rule 5 draft, Ciuffo was headed to Port Charlotte, Fla., for an early start on spring training when he got word that he had failed a second test for a drug of abuse, reportedly for marijuana. He was suspended the first 50 games of what was to be a key first season at Triple-A.

The ripple effect of his latest transgression was wide, but the season concluded with Ciuffo receiving a September callup.

The suspension could have cost Ciuffo trust within a Rays organization that waited patiently for him to develop. Tampa Bay invested its top draft pick in 2013—which was 21st overall—plus nearly $2 million in bonus money in the Lexington (S.C.) High product.

"I definitely put myself behind the eight-ball,’’ he said.

From a personal standpoint, Ciuffo disappointed a long list of friends and family, none more than his father Tony, his most ardent supporter who is well known as longtime college sports publicist in South Carolina.

The conversations they had were difficult, to put it mildly.

"I've always been prepared to get that phone call that he wasn't good enough,"  Tony said. "I was not prepared to get a call that he wasn't committed to make the most of his opportunity."

Nick Ciuffo made a commitment to make more than the usual hollow apologies and promises to do better next time. He insisted this was a seismic moment in his career—and life—and he would make the necessary changes.

To earn back respect, he took his Major League Baseball-mandated counseling sessions seriously and put in time at extended spring training while suspended. And he took advantage of the opportunity to join Triple-A Durham in early June.

"It's been a long year,'' Ciuffo said upon joining the Rays. "I think as a person, I've grown a lot. As a player, I've grown a lot over the past however many months.’’

Ciuffo did well with the playing time he got, though he may he headed back to the minors next season. That's because the Rays were impressed by July trade acquisition Michael Perez, and both he and Ciuffo are lefthanded hitters.

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 COOL RAYS

>> Rays affiliates won three minor league championships—Durham in the Triple-A International League, Bowling Green in the low Class A Midwest League and the Dominican Summer League.

>> Longtime minor league pitching coach Dick Bosman, 74, has decided to retire after working for the organization since 2001. Bosman was a big league coach with the Orioles and Rangers after pitching parts of 11 seasons in the majors, throwing a no-hitter for the Indians in 1974.

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