The Major League Baseball draft is 11 days away, and the Pittsburgh Pirates are picking at number twelve. This allows the Pirates to add an upside player to the farm system.
We have been breaking down players the Pirates could be interested in at number 12 overall, primarily focusing on college players. We’ve looked at UCLA pitcher Griffin Canning, UVA outfielder Adam Haseley, UNC shortstop Logan Warmoth, and Florida pitcher Alex Faedo. Canning and Faedo would add an upside right-handed arm to the system, Haseley a left-handed hitting outfielder with a smooth stroke, and Warmoth an athletic shortstop who has developed some pop.
In his recent mock draft for ESPN, Keith Law has the Pirates taking J.B. Bukauskas from the University of North Carolina, and the teammate of shortstop Logan Warmoth. Baseball America ranks Bukauskas as their sixth top prospect and MLB Pipeline has him at number seven. Most outlets rank Bukauskas as a top talent in the draft. Him falling to the Pirates in Law’s mock probably relates to the way teams draft, and a player always falls.
J.B. Bukauskas stands only at 6’0″ and 201 pounds according to the Tar Heels website. His height makes him seem like a non Pirates pick, as Brian Burres (2010), Erik Bedard (2012), Jeff Locke (2013-16), Edinson Volquez (2014), Ian Snell (2008-09), and Wandy Rodriguez (2012-13) are the only pitchers to make 10 or more starts being shorter than 6’2″ in the Neal Huntington era. Since 2008, pitchers have 10 or more starts 58 times, and only 11 times, 19 percent, have they been less than 6’2″. However, Bukauskas does throw hard, which could make him an option for the Pirates. MLB Pipeline points out that,
"“At his best, Bukauskas can blow away hitters with a pair of double-plus pitches in a mid-90s fastball with sink and a mid-80s slider with tilt.”"
With his fastball and slider, Bukauskas is a strikeout pitcher, and he is able to get outs. In his time at Chapel Hill, Bukauskas has pitched in 41 games, and he has started all 41 of them. Here are his numbers via the baseball cube and the Tar Heels website:
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J.B. Bukauskas has improved each season in run prevention, and in the 2016 Cape Cod League, he posted a 3.72 ERA in 9.2 innings. That’s the growth wanted to be seen in a player. He’s also improved his walk rate from his freshman season and is similar to last year. MLB gives him a 50 grade on control. But his arm is electric, as he misses bats. In 2016, Bukauskas finished third in SO/9 (MLB Pipeline), and this year he is currently ranked 30th (NCAA.org).
His arm will get him to the big leagues, but as a reliever or starter is the large question. He is only 6’0″, and only 22% of pitchers in 2017 with 2 or more starts stand at 6’1″ or shorter, and only 14% are 6’0″ or less. It’s rare to see pitchers of his stature pitch. And then you watch him throw. His left elbow goes up with his glove hand twisting towards first base. His right arm stays pointed down, and as he turns to home (front of jersey visible to the batter), his glove stays down by the belt, and his arm comes through. They are not the cleanest mechanics, but the Pirates drafted Gerrit Cole knowing they would have to change his mechanics or he’ll be a reliever. The team could draft J.B. Bukauskas doing the same.
J.B. Bukauskas would add an impact arm to the Pirates system. His arm is electric, he throws hard from the right side, and he racks up strikeouts. His size and mechanics though can cause him to end up as a reliever. If he is there at number 12, the Pirates have to decide if the risk is worth the potential reward.