Bukauskas, who I will here after refer to as JB to avoid the 90% chance of screwing up spelling his name, is a 6’0" 195 lbs 20 year old RHP and is the current Friday Night Starter for UNC. He’s young for his class after Doogie Howsering a grade in High School. In my last preview of Houck I noted how relatively safe a bet he was due to his fairly workhorse build. JB is the antithesis of that. JB is either going to be a #1/2 Starter or he’s going to be a back-end Reliever of some type. In fact, his build is very similar to former Phils Starters Pedro Martinez and Roy Oswalt, but his pitch mix looks an awful lot like Brad Lidge. All good outcomes, certainly and it’s not hard to see the upside or the risks.
First, JB’s pitch mix: He has a sinking Fastball he throws as high as 96mph, that’s his primary pitch and it’s a fantastic pitch with good movement and plus control. He’s comfortable throwing it anywhere in any count. This pitch gets a universal 70 grade in every scouting report I’ve seen. There’s no more gas in that tank to improve the pitch, but that’s a rather knick-knack complaint over a grade 70 pitch. His second pitch might really be turning into his 1A pitch. JB throws a Slider with really good tilt that used to get dinged a bit as inconsistent and his location sometimes went on mini-vacations. Most reports list it as a grade 60 pitch that flashes 70 potential, but from what I’ve seen of JB this year it’s flashing less and simply looking 70 much more consistently. His third pitch is a changeup that’s a work in progress. It’s shown improvement every year, but likely tops out as a solid average pitch.
JB uses this mix to rack up huge K totals (nearly 13 per game) and his control is good enough to do that while racking up well below 2 BB’s per game. Now his control is good, but his command is not highly refined. He has some inconsistency in his delivery mechanics and his delivery is very high effort. His Pitches are good enough to Start as a pro, but he needs to clean up his delivery a little. He sometimes seems to rush it a little and when he does it tends to change where his landing foot comes down causing him to leave some pitches high or pull them or push them, depending upon where he lands. These are not terribly uncommon problems for 20 year old Pitchers, but it’s the mechanics that could land him in the pen, if they never quite get cleaned up all the way.
It’s video time. First up is a clip from Project Pipeline from a little over a year ago. You’ll see a number of pitches go wild to the arm side, watch his landing foot which points that way on those pitches, but towards home on his good located pitches. Then around the 2:30 mark in the video he starts missing glove side and also starts falling off more to that side in his follow through. These are the types of tweaks he needs to make to his mechanics to get more consistent control. They’re not major changes and they’re achievable. My bigger problem comes fro a few things I dislike in his delivery. It’s very high effort, he throws across his body, which is good for deception and hiding the ball longer (may lead to more injuries per various folks, but I’m not an expert in that area) and he lands on a stiff front leg, which causes some Pitchers to be wild high (though in fairness I have not seen JB have problems leaving things up as often as being wild horizontally.
Here’s a Baseball America video from about a month ago. Some of the same issues pop up again with his landing foot and his balance, but he does look better not landing on a straight leg so often. Subsequently his location overall looks better. He sends one to the attic and a few wide, but mostly hits his mark. You also get to see his stretch delivery in this video, though the angle during that portion makes picking up movement pretty tricky, so I’m not sure if his stuff flattens out, as we’ve heard about and seen with Appel’s stuff.
Overall, I’m quite torn on JB. The stuff is clearly there and it’s entirely possible that at 8 he’s the best Player on the board (though I’ve seen a lot of mocks project him at #6 to the A’s since shorter Pitchers haven’t scared them off in the past). He also seems relatively safe since his Slider Fastball combo is a proven winner in bullpens. Though getting a bullpen arm at 8th overall may feel a bit underwhelming, the league seems to be moving strongly towards valuing back end arms very highly, even the very SABR savvy teams have invested heavily in "closers" the last 2 years. In that event, perhaps getting a Brad Lidge type isn’t a bad outcome at all if you can trade him for a haul of prospects or save tens of millions in the FA market.