If a team was going to draft the unknown that is 17-year-old pitcher Nick Bitsko, it’s no surprise going it was the Tampa Bay Rays.
The MLB draft is unique among the other major sports, as fans are not greatly familiar with most of the players who are drafted. But Nick Bitsko, a 17-year old right-hander out of Central Bucks East High School in Pennsylvania, is a mystery even to the 30 major league teams.
Bitsko reclassified to the 2020 draft class after originally being part of the 2021 class. With his high school season cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, most teams only saw him for a few competitive innings last summer. From there, spurred by his announcement in January he would be eligible for this year’s draft, the evaluation of Bitsko has come from small samples of his video posts of bullpen sessions on Instagram and Twitter. Some teams did have video interviews with him, lauding his makeup and mental approach.
Bitsko was expected to be drafted on Wednesday night, somewhere in the first 37 picks. The nearby Philadelphia Phillies took a high school right-hander with the 15th overall pick, but it was Mick Abel out of Jesuit HS in Oregon.
With all of the mystery around Bitsko, and the evaluation of him based on a little bit of data, the most analytic-driven teams were sure to have the most interest in him at the right spot on the draft board. Ultimately it was not surprising the Tampa Bay Rays took the plunge, selecting Bitsko 24th overall.
The data metrics on Bitsko’s pitch arsenal draw comparisons to Justin Verlander (fastball), Luis Castillo (slider) and Chris Paddack (curveball). During a bullpen session in late May, per ESPN, the spin efficiency and sink on his curveball notably improved. As did the spin efficiency on his slider.
Bitsko, who will turn 18 on June 16, verbally committed to the University of Virginia for 2021 pending the results of the draft. Now that he’s a top-25 pick, with a slotted signing bonus of $2.83 million as the 24th pick, he’s got a decision to make. But the Rays have made a bet on his upside, with signability an important factor for an organization that can’t afford to not get a first-round pick into their development system.