J.B. Bukauskas was recently designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks, and he's a pitcher the Pittsburgh Pirates should take a chance on if they have the opportunity.
The Pittsburgh Pirates should still be on the lookout for relief pitching depth. They’ve added a handful of players like Dauri Moreta, Jarlín García, and Jose Hernandez, but adding another arm would be greatly beneficial. The Arizona Diamondbacks recently designated a relief pitcher for assignment who could add a highly talented arm to the team, and that’s J.B. Bukauskas.
Bukauskas was formerly a first-round pick by the Houston Astros in 2017, going in the 15th overall selection. The right-hander was considered a consensus top 100 prospect in 2018 and 2019, typically sitting around the 80-100 range among prospect rankings. Then at the 2019 trade deadline, he, along with three other players, was sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the blockbuster Zack Greinke deadline buzzer deal.
The right-hander made his major league debut in 2021, pitching just 17.1 innings, but allowing 15 earned runs on a whopping four home runs, seven walks, and just 14 strikeouts. While it was a poor sample size, Bukauskas could have played a more significant role, but a teres muscle strain in late March would keep him out of the game for essentially the entirety of the first half of 2022.
When the right-hander returned, he looked great. Although Bukauskas pitched just 22.1 innings, he reeled off a 2.42 ERA, 3.31 FIP, and 1.16 WHIP. Bukauskas struck out just over a quarter of opponents who squared off against him (25.3% to be exact) while having a walk rate of just 4.6%. On top of that, he had a 45.5% ground ball rate and allowed just a single home run.
Bukauskas averaged 94.5 MPH in 2021 with his four-seamer. He also had an above-average spin at 2308 RPM. But his slider was the real weapon. Sitting at 86 MPH, opponents couldn’t touch Bukauskas’ slider. His average whiff rate was 43.3% and when opponents did make contact, they made hard contact just 21.1% of the time. Bukauskas’ changeup was his least used pitch, but it has the most movement of his three-pitch arsenal. He also has the short, quick arm action teams love,
Elite slider, a fastball with plus-plus potential, a former first-rounder, and a consensus top-100 prospect status as late as 2019, Bukauskas is the definition of a low-risk/high-reward pitcher. If the Pittsburgh Pirates have the opportunity to claim him, there would be little reason not to. Bukauskas has an extremely high ceiling and if he were to reach it, he could be one of the team's best relief pitchers.