On Wednesday night the Arizona Diamondbacks designated reliever J.B. Bukauskas for assignment. The former top prospect for the Houston Astros and 1st round pick turned 26-years-old after the 2022 season ended.
In 2021 he would make his big league debut, and he struggled. In his first season as a reliever he battled injuries, but also couldn’t quite find his footing on the big league mound. With Arizona in the big leagues he posted a 7.79 ERA in 17.1 innings where he allowed 24 hits, four home runs, and he walked 17 batters. In the minor leagues that season he posted a 4.26 ERA in 12.2 innings with four walks and 16 strikeouts at the Triple-A level.
This past season he once again battled injuries – missing the first few months of the year with a strained muscle in his shoulder. He would join Triple-A Reno at the beginning of July and pitch in 21 games. He only allowed runs in four of those games, posting a 2.66 ERA in 20.1 innings with just one home run allowed, four walks, and he struck out 19 batters.
Despite the good performance, Arizona never called him up to the big leagues. Instead the team sent him to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, but he only pitched in one game. A quick internet search does not seem to have any information at all as to why that happened.
If we are going to assume that he’s healthy – which is an assumption given his Arizona Fall League disappearance – then we can look back at how his stuff played in Triple-A because the Pacific Coast League has publicly available pitch tracking data. During the season he averaged 94.2 MPH with his sinker, 88.4 MPH with his change up, and 86.0 MPH with his slider.
His sinker moves a lot. It’s got above-average sink as well as above-average movement on the horizontal plane. His slider is almost more of a cutter than a slider in terms of movement. Those are his two main pitches, making up over 95% of what he throws (50.5% sinkers, 44.7% sliders).
While the fastball does seem to have good movement to it, it’s not exactly tricking hitters. In Triple-A this season opponents hit .368 against his fastball when making contact and they slugged .711. By comparison, guys don’t have much success against his slider. They hit just .211 against it and slugged just .263 against it.
Perhaps there’s something that can improve his fastball a little bit, or even something as simple as having him throw fewer fastballs and more sliders could tilt the numbers in his favor a bit more. And these are also things that can be worked out in the minor leagues, too, because Bukauskas still has an option remaining.