The Astros may only be drafting as high as No 15 for the last time in the foreseeable future and drafted North Carolina righty J.B. Bukauskas in the first round.
Bukauskas, who served as the Tar Heels’ Friday night starter this past season, went 9-1 with a 2.53 ERA in 93 innings this season. He struck out 11.2 per nine innings and was recently considered to go as high as #5 to Atlanta in recent mock drafts.
Bukauskas highlights his arsenal with a mid-90s fastball that currently is a plus pitch, and a mid-80s slider that grades out similarly. MLB.com even considered both offerings “plus-plus” at times. He also has a developing change-up.
His most recent outing was a rough start against Davidson in the Chapel Hill regional last Friday in a loss. North Carolina was eliminated from the regional later that weekend.
Even though Bukauskas may have fallen a bit due to that recent performance, his entire body of work certainly seemed worthy of a top-15 selection. He’s the first college pitcher taken in the first round by Houston since Mark Appel in 2013 (let’s hope this one turns out differently.). Bukauskas is considered to have a fast-track to the majors, though there are always concerns with college pitchers and their workloads.
Since Bukauskas is an advanced college arm who pitched in a tough collegiate conference, he could start in Tri-Cities with a few appearances at full-season ball this summer. All of this depends on how quickly he signs, and whether or not the Astros decide to monitor his innings.
Depending on the Astros’ needs going forward this summer, it’s also possible to envision Bukauskas pitching bullpen innings as early as this summer. He’s certainly not ready to be starting games at the MLB level, but his top two offerings look close to MLB ready in shorter bullpen stints. Of course, the Astros would rather their current pitching staff regain health and not rush a newly-minted top prospect to the show. For now, look for Bukauskas to sign and start to develop as a future starter for the Astros.