The MLB mock draft season is in full swing, and that's worth watching because the Oakland A's hold another high pick this year at #6 overall. Last summer we were surprised when LHP A.J. Puk stayed on the board long enough for Oakland to choose him, but if the mocks are to be believed this time around then the A's result might be a bit more predictable. That's because they are currently expected to pick a player who is ranked right around sixth overall and whose profile is right up their alley.
Meet J.B. Bukauskas, an undersized right-handed pitcher from UNC. Some basic info:
J.B. Bukauskas, RHP
University of North Carolina, Junior
DOB: 10/11/1996; Height: 6’0" Weight: 195
Stats: 8-0, 1.87 ERA / 13 GS / 82.0 IP / 106 K / 31 BB
MLB Scouting Grades:
Fastball = 70 / Slider = 60 / Changeup = 50 / Command = 50 / Overall = 55
Oakland loves to draft college players. By and large, when national baseball writers produce their mock drafts their approach tends to be: "So let it be written, so let it be done!" There is a clear gap between the Top 3 talents in the upcoming MLB Draft and those who follow, and J.B. Bukauskas resides with the group of 7-12 players who come after clear leaders in Hunter Greene, Brendan McKay and Kyle Wright. Bukauskas is ranked #5 overall on the Hero Sports draft board. He’s #6 overall on the draft boards at Baseball America, Perfect Game, and Fangraphs and ranked #7 overall on MLB’s draft board.
From an analytical standpoint Bukauskas checks all the boxes, and his greatest perceived flaw (being a short, right-handed pitcher) is one the A's have frequently ignored. Multiple outlets have also noted an unusually strong scouting presence by Oakland in North Carolina. This has led the following writers to pencil in Bukauskas' name to the Oakland Athletics in their latest round of mock drafts.
- Jim Callis at MLB.com (5/26)
- John Manuel at Baseball America (5/26)
- Taylor Ward at Scout.com (5/22)
- Jeff Ellis at Scout.com (5/12)
- Perfect Game Staff at Perfectgame.org (5/10)
UNC’s Friday night starter, Bukauskas has arguably the best breaking ball in the 2017 Draft class. He pairs his mid-80’s slider with a mid-90’s fastball that he can throw to both sides of the plate. In his last regular season start vs. Duke he threw 112 pitches and maintained his fastball at 91-94 through the 7th inning. His changeup flashes average and most scouts think it’ll get more consistent with additional use. He’s athletic and is young for a college Junior, having skipped a grade in high school. His stuff and stature have led to Sonny Gray comps from scouts who believe he can stay in the rotation in pro ball. There’s a legit argument to be made that, when you consider his performance and his ability, J.B. Bukauskas is the best college pitcher available this June.
Bukauskas isn’t considered the best college pitcher in the 2017 Draft because he’s short. Generously listed at 6’0" and with a high-effort delivery, many scouts question if he can hold up as a starting pitcher when he has to take the mound every 5th day. Every amateur prospect has to prove they can handle the grind of pro ball, and fair or not smaller pitchers are considered a higher risk of not having the strength and stamina to handle a 162-game season. There are scouts who consider Bukauskas a future bullpen arm, albeit one who could be a dominant closer. His fastball can straighten out on him and his delivery still needs a bit of work.
J.B. Bukauskas is a legitimate Top 10 talent in this draft and the Sonny Gray comparisons might be selling him a bit short (no pun intended). He’s got a 3-year track record of success in the ACC and has enough polish that you can reasonably dream about him making his debut sometime in the second half of 2019. That said, I don’t think the fastball keeps its 70 Grade once he goes pro. He’ll sit 92-94 and flash a little more on occasion, which will be plenty to set up his swing-and-miss slider. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles a 200+ IP season. I worry that durability will be a problem, not necessarily during the season but over multiple seasons. We all remember Good Sonny from 2013 – 2015 and can’t forget Bad Sonny of 2016; I don’t see Bukauskas holding up any better.
My Big Problem: The A’s drafted Sonny Gray, a Top 10 talent in the 2011 draft, with the #18 overall pick. Their risk was already reduced simply by when they picked. Now factor that the A’s went heavy on college pitching in last year’s draft and that their upper minor league farm teams feature Daniel Mengden and at least 4 other legitimate pitching prospects in Daniel Gossett, Paul Blackburn, Grant Holmes, and Heath Fillmyer. This context is missing in the various mock drafts placing Bukauskas with Oakland. Bukauskas is a Top 10 talent this year but the natural math of the #6 spot means Oakland will get to choose from a minimum of 5 Top 10 talents! It’s simple Risk/Reward … relative to picking Sonny at #18, Oakland would in essence triple their risk in hopes of getting the same reward they achieved in 2011. Why do that when there are other pressing areas of need within the organization?
The A’s have a stronger than normal scouting presence in North Carolina because 3 of the consensus Top 10 talents in the 2017 Draft live and play in the Tar Heel state. Bukauskas is the only college player in that group and it's practically a meme that the A's have a fondness for taking college players. Memes are such for a reason but the 2012 and 2013 Drafts showed that the A's are willing to take from the high school ranks when they find a guy they like. I wouldn’t be upset if the A’s drafted Bukauskas but I think this is a smokescreen; for what I’m not entirely sure.
Fortunately, I’m not the only person who thinks the A’s will go in another direction on Draft Day -- more on that in the next post.