ST. PETERSBURG -- Nick Bitsko hasn’t officially graduated from Central Bucks East High School in Pennsylvania yet -- that will happen on Friday -- but on Wednesday, the Rays selected the talented right-hander with the No. 24 pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, adding him to a farm system that
ST. PETERSBURG -- Nick Bitsko hasn’t officially graduated from Central Bucks East High School in Pennsylvania yet -- that will happen on Friday -- but on Wednesday, the Rays selected the talented right-hander with the No. 24 pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, adding him to a farm system that is often regarded as the best and deepest in Major League Baseball.
“I think it’d be fun to learn from the players and the coaches, and I think [Tampa Bay] will be a great environment for me to grow and learn as a pitcher,” Bitsko said. “From a developmental standpoint, they’re one of the best in the big leagues.”
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According to Baseball America, Bitsko was the top prospect in the Class of 2021, but he ultimately decided to reclassify to the Class of 2020, making him eligible for the Draft even with his commitment to the University of Virginia. The Rays also wrapped Day 1 of the Draft, selecting Arizona State shortstop Alika Williams with the 37th pick.
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Even with the decision to reclassify and the fact that Bitsko wasn’t able to pitch during his senior season due to the coronavirus pandemic, he was still highly regarded by scouts and was ranked as the No. 14 prospect in the 2020 Draft Class by MLB Pipeline.
“From a mental standpoint, it wasn’t just to get drafted, or anything like that,” Bitsko said on his decision to reclassify. “It was more to further my career. Obviously I thought I was ready this summer after doing the summer circuit and everything, and I feel like I made the right decision to advance my career and play against better competition. It’s the best decision I’ve made.”
Bitsko is a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder who projects to be a quick riser through the Minors, even though he’ll enter pro baseball at just 17 years of age if the two sides come to terms on a deal. Despite his youth, Bitsko is already using his large frame to produce power on his pitches, especially his four-seam fastball, reaching 97 mph at the East Coast Pro showcase last summer.
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Bitsko went a combined 4-2 with a 1.27 ERA and 68 strikeouts over his freshman and sophomore high school seasons. He also entered the 2020 season as Pennsylvania’s reigning Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year and a Perfect Game Preseason All-American.
Two weeks ago, Bitsko posted a video on his Instagram of him throwing 98.5 with the fastball. The Rays, however, had their eye on Bitsko long before that, identifying the righty during the summer circuit.
“We identified him last summer as someone who was a really talented starting-pitching prospect,” said Rays senior director of amateur scouting Rob Metzler. “He had our full focus during the winter time when he reclassified.”
Former MLB pitcher Al Leiter, who knows a lot about pitching following a 19-year career, had a lot of good things to say about the Rays’ latest pick on MLB Network.
“He’s very young and I think the upside is tremendous,” Leiter said. “This guy does move the needle for me. I think he’s going to be special.”
But as talented as Bitsko is, the pick by the Rays was a bit of a gamble considering there isn’t a lot of tape out on the young right-hander. That, however, didn’t scare off Metzler and general manager Erik Neander, who share a lot of confidence in Bitsko's talent.
“Everyone comes with different unknowns and different risks,” Neander said. “But we felt very, very comfortable with the talent and the person that we’re getting here. We’re all excited.”
Now the next step for the Rays will be to try to come to an agreement with Bitsko, who has the option to go to college and play for the University of Virginia. Bitsko expects to come to a decision over the next couple of weeks.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to work with all this stuff because usually you get flown out to do the physical and stuff like that,” Bitsko said. “I guess we’ll just go from here and I’m just going to enjoy the night and then we’ll get to the discussion talks and decision making over the next few weeks.”
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Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.