J.B. Bukauskas is really good. Filthy may be a better word. The North Carolina junior right-hander has been solid for much of his collegiate career.
This season he has taken it to a new level.
Bukauskas is the Tar Heels Friday night starter. The junior right-hander stands at just six-feet and 200 pounds, leaving many to wonder if he is a future starter or reliever once he is drafted this coming June. He is also younger for his class, having jumped a grade when in high school.
One thing is for certain. He is relishing his time in the rotation at this season's ace.
Last season was a big one for the righty. He went 7-2 in 13 starts for the Heels as their Saturday starter. Bukauskas posted a respectable 3.10 ERA (an even better 2.45 ERA in ACC play) while striking out 111 batters n 78.1 innings. His 12.75 strikeout-per-nine rate was third best in the nation. His work didn't go unnoticed as he made the mid-season Golden Spikes Watch List.
During the summer he was lights out for the USA Collegiate National Team. He pitched 21.1 innings of shutout baseball, striking out 21 and walking three.
As he has every year prior, 2017 has seen Bukauskas take another step forward.
He has been in control since Opening Day when he struck out 10 batters as the Friday night starter. He picked up his second win of the season this past Friday. He is striking out batters by the boat load, already sitting down 37 in his 26 innings pitched, a 12.8 strikeout-per-nine rate. It's been tough to get on base against him, as he is walking just 1.73 batters-per-nine, with opponents batting just .169 against him. Bukauskas has posted a stingy 0.69 ERA through four starts.
There is a lot to like about Bukauskas' arsenal, as MLB Pipeline gives him two plus-plus grades on his pitches. He has a 70-grade fastball that he not only consistently fires over the plate in the mid-90s but also commands well with the added bonus of sinking action. His 60-grade slider also moves well. The earlier reports of inconsistencies with the pitch seem to be quickly erasing themselves. His changeup showed much improvement this past summer and continues to do so this spring.
Bukauskas cranks it up to 96 to fan Gonzalez and end the sixth. UNC looking to break the tie as we head to the bottom half, Pate due up.— Carolina Baseball (@DiamondHeels) February 24, 2017
The 20-year old lines up on the right side of the mound. There is definitely a lot of effort and energy in his delivery. Here's what Hudson Belinsky of Baseball America had to say about his delivery after a late February start:
Bukauskas works from the first base side of the rubber. From the windup he has a fluid leg lift and knee fold before striding slightly closed off toward the right-handed batters box. He's not the most consistent with his motion off the rubber, and on Friday he showed a tendency to rush off his back ankle and hop down the mound, giving him issues repeating his motion. He has a deep scapular load as his front side starts to drive forward, and his elbow is a bit high in back as he plunges backward. His combination of less-than-ideal balance over the rubber and a longer arm stroke are both barriers to command, but he is a solid athlete, young for a draft-eligible college pitcher and it's very early in the season.
Bukauskas has already been drafted once. Coming out of high school the Arizona Diamondbacks chose him despite Bukauskas not hiding the fact that there was no way he was not going to North Carolina. He has improved his draft stock by wisely going the college route and honing his craft. He will likely be a top ten pick this June, and should get every chance to show that he is indeed capable of being a starter in pro ball.