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Scouting Report: J.B. Bukauskas, RHP, University of North Carolina

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The North Carolina ace could be the Diamondbacks ace in the not too distant future.

With one week before the actual draft, I thought I would start some scouting reports on players I think have at least a 40% chance of being available with the 7th pick of the draft. James has done some takes on players in the upper echelon of the draft already and I’ve done some synopses of individual players for my draft scenario polls. Now it’s time to start digging in further and see what the Diamondbacks could be getting next week.

Jacob “J.B.” Bukauskas is a pitcher out of Ashburn, VA, home of both Diamondbacks pitching prospect Taylor Clarke and yours truly. Out of high school JBB was considered a likely first rounder, but did not get drafted until the 20th round because he outright told teams he wasn’t signing. The Diamondbacks were that team that drafted him in 2014, and history could repeat itself as he’s projected to go into the range near where the Diamondbacks pick.

Height: 6’0”
Weight: 201
DOB: 10/11/1996 (20.244 on draft day)
Chances he’s available at 7: 45%

After 3 years at the University of North Carolina, JBB has moved up from a mid-1st round pick to a surefire Top 7 pick. He’s shorter than your typical pitcher, but he’s filled out well. His chances of developing into a top of the rotation starter is very high although he could end up in the bullpen if injuries catch up to him. His current level is at worst going to make him a middle of the rotation starter if he’s able to start. After a sophomore season that saw his strikeout rate spike, his junior year saw a dramatic decrease in the number of hits allowed while keeping his strikeout rate up.

Fastball: JBB’s fastball sits 94-97 and gets plenty of late movement on the pitch. He throws 2 different fastballs, a 4-seam and 2-seamer. The four-seamer a swing and miss pitch up in the zone and he can use the 2-seamer down in the zone to get ground balls. JBB is more likely to attack up in the zone. Grade: 65/70

Slider: The slider is 85-88 and has a lot of vertical and horizontal movement. The movement from the hitter’s perspective is 11-5. JBB’s slider plays very well off the fastball where it looks like a fastball to the hitter before falling completely off the table. He still has a bit of trouble consistently commanding the pitch, but the movement and ability to play off the fastball makes it an elite pitch. Grade: 55/65

Change-Up: The change-up is the distant 3rd pitch in the repertoire, but he’s shown a willingness to use it against left-handed hitters. Velocity wise, it’s about 87-90 MPH with late fade on the pitch. It’s a pitch he should work on in the minors as something to get lefties out on and give a different look for righties a 3rd time through the order. Grade: 50/55

Command: JBB had higher WHIP totals his first 2 years at UNC in the 1.2-1.3 range, but his junior year it dropped to 1.01. Walks are still somewhat of an issue with about 3.5 walks per 9 innings in his college career although his strikeout rate is about 11 per 9 innings. In the Cape Cod League last year, he fanned 17 hitters vs. 2 walks in 9 13 innings, so he’s battle tested in wood leagues. His sophomore and junior year he had over 3 strikeouts per walk. This is the one area that could use the most work in the minors. Grade 50/60

Risk: If there is one risk here, it’s the potential for injury. His mechanics need some cleaning up, especially in the separation and loading phase of the delivery. JBB’s delivery is clean through the turn and leg kick, so there isn’t too much of a need to change the windup. When in the separation phase of the delivery, JBB’s elbows come above the shoulders in what is the dreaded inverted W signal. I remember seeing that same issue with Stephen Strasburg in the 2009 draft and he needed Tommy John surgery about a year after getting drafted and signing.

The good news is JBB’s elbow is still intact, so they can work on improving that before he tears up his elbow. Tommy John surgery would be bad because that’s a year to a year and a half of lost development or production. Another red flag in the delivery is when he cocks the arm behind the shoulder in the delivery. The elbow is above the shoulder at that point, which is what could lead to different arm injuries. From that point, he leads with a low elbow as he’s coming forward which is another cause for concern. Right now, his delivery screams future Tommy John patient. If the Diamondbacks can clean up the delivery in the minors, most of the risk goes completely away.

Upside: #1 Starter (A)

Risk: Big Injury Risk for Tommy John, but talent-wise is a surefire MLB starter (B)

Grade: A-