- Rating: 2.44
- Age: Turned 25 just after the end of the season.
- 021 Stats: 17.1 IP, 24 H, 19 R, 15 ER, 4 HR, 7 BB, 14 SO, 7.79 ERA/56 ERA+
- 2021 Earnings: Pre-arbitration
- 2022 Status: On the Diamondbacks 40 man roster, competing for a bullpen spot.
In 2019, Mike Hazen traded future HoF’er Zach Greinke to the Astros for Corbin Martin, J. B. Bukauskas, Seth Beer, and Josh Rojas. One of these, Martin, has already gotten his review for the season, while Beer and Rojas are still upcoming in the series. Today, though, we talk about J. B. Bukauskas.
Bukaskas came to the Diamondbacks as a starter. His limited time after the trade he was a starter, and he spent his time at the 2020 alternate site as a starter. However, after getting to see him work in person for a year and a half, and to see his issues harnassing his top tier stuff, the Diamondbacks coaching staff and front office decided to try a different approach. They moved him to the bullpen full time for the first time in his career and early results paid off in spades.
From the bullpen, he had arguably the best spring training of anyone on the team, leading to several articles talking about his performance, including some national recognition, being called one of the Phenoms of Spring Training in this article . In all, he faced 12 batters in major league camp, retiring all of them and striking out nine. He was, however, cut from Major League camp about half way through. It seemed to be service time manipulation from the outside, though Lovullo said it wasn’t, citing different things that the team felt he needed to work on. In retrospect, they were probably right.
Bukauskas spent roughly the first three weeks of the season “working on stuff,” and then he made his major league debut on April 20th, coming out of the bullpen to face the Cincinnati Reds, which didn’t help the service time manipulation claims whatsoever.. It was a short outing, but he recorded the one out he was asked to get. It was the same with his next three outings, which increased to full innings by the third one. However, the rough patches came quickly after that.
The first big speedbump was his appearance against the Padres on April 28th. He ended up recording no outs, giving up four hits and three earned runs. It was easy to write it off as being one bad outing against the Padres when they were good, but it became a common theme of good outings and ineffective outings mixed together in pretty much equal parts. This continued through May 14th. After another bad outing, this time against Washington, he was placed on the IL with a right elbow flexor strain.
He returned from the IL on July 2nd, but the results hadn’t improved with the time off. Right out the gate, he gave up four runs, though none were earned, on three walks and one hit. Just like earlier, his next six appearances were a grab bag of good and ineffective. The continued struggles bought him another ticket to Reno where he spent ten days before coming up again as a part of a series of roster moves related to a COVID-19 outbreak on the team.
That final stint was short lived, however, lasting only three outings from the bullpen. the first and the last one were scoreless, with the middle resulting in two earned runs. He was optioned back down to Reno on August 5th, where he stayed for the remainder of the season, not even getting a September call up.
Bukauskas looks to figure strongly into the bullpen discussions for the upcoming rebuilding season. He probably also stands to benefit as much as, if not more than, anyone on the team from the hiring of Brent Strom as pitching coach. Strom has a history of taking high potential, but currently under performing, pitchers like Bukauskas and helping them reach that next level. A perfect example is the work he did with Gerrit Cole when he went from Pittsburgh to Houston.
When Hazen discussed the move to the bullpen at the start of the ‘21 season, he did leave the option on the table of a return to the starting rotation. Given the mixed results this past season out of the bullpen, I don’t see anything that would indicate a change in course. Expect to see Bukauskas out of the bullpen in ‘22, hopefully moving more towards the promise he showed in flashes during the ‘21 season.