School: University of North Carolina; Class: Junior
Position: RHP; B/T: R/R
Height: 6-0; Weight: 201
Previously Drafted: Arizona Diamondbacks, 20th round, 2014
Background: In a word: dominant. The hard-throwing right-hander, who hails from Ashburn, Virginia, has simply been one of the best pitchers at whichever level he’s performed. After helping his prep team, the Stone Bridge Bulldogs, to a district title, the generously listed 6-foot Bukauskas committed to the University of North Carolina – as a freshman. Following another Bob Gibson-esque sophomore season, Bukauskas reclassified during the summer in order to attend college one year earlier. Then during his junior campaign he went a perfect 7-0 while fanning nearly 90 hitters without allowing an earned run. And that string of strong performances continued for the Tar Heels during his freshman year in 2015, as well.
On a pitching staff that had several notable eventual MLB draft picks (Trent Thornton, Zac Gallen, Trevor Kelley, and Benton Moss), Bukauskas stood out among his peers – easily.
In 14 starts that year, he threw 72.2 innings with 67 strikeouts, 30 walks, and a 4.09 ERA – all at the tender age of 18. The eventual first round pick followed that up with an even more impressive showing the following season: 78.1 IP, 111 K, just 29 walks, and a 3.10 ERA. Bukauskas also starred for Team USA that summer as well, throwing 21.2 innings without allowing an earned run while fanning 21 and walking just three. Oh, yeah, and just for good measure he posted an impeccable 17-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in just 9.2 innings with the Chatham Anglers in the Cape Cod League as well.
This season Bukauskas has simply been unhittable: through his first 71.2 innings, he’s fanned 96, walked only 22, and is sporting a paltry 1.51 ERA. And, if you’re into that kind of thing, he remains – at the time of this writing – a perfect 8-0 on the season.
For his collegiate career (at the time of this writing), he’s averaging 11.06 strikeouts and 3.27 walks every nine innings to go along with a 2.91 ERA and a 20-5 win-loss record.
Projection: Pure. Filthy. Dominance. Consider the following:
• Since 2011, here is a list of Division I pitchers to average at least 12 strikeouts and fewer than three walks every nine innings with an ERA below 2.00 (minimum 70 innings): Trevor Bauer, Danny Hultzen, Jack Leathersich, and Luke Gillingham. If the season ended today, Bukauskas would be the fifth member of the group.
Easily my favorite pitcher in the entire draft class. The lone knock on Bukauskas is his frame size. With that being said, though, the North Carolina coaching staff has done a fine job limiting his workload throughout his amateur career. Big, big time strikeout ability with better-than-average control. Bukauskas’s production is far more impressive than former Tar Heel – and 2010 seventh overall pick – Matt Harvey.
If his likely sub-6-foot frame can prove to handle the rigors of taking the ball every fifth day in professional baseball, he has the potential to blossom into a bonafide frontend starter. And the quick and easy comparison would be Marcus Stroman, another diminutive right-hander who dominated in college.
Ceiling: 4.5- to 5.0-win player
Floor: 2.0-win player
Risk: Moderate to High
Grade: First Round