The Diamdonbacks announced they’ve designated righty J.B. Bukauskas for assignment. The move creates a 40-man roster spot for Zach Davies, who has officially signed his one-year free agent guarantee to return to the desert. According to the team, Davies’ deal also contains a mutual option for the 2024 campaign.
Bukauskas was a first-round pick of the Astros in 2017 and appeared among Baseball America’s top 100 overall prospects the following spring. The University of North Carolina product was credited by scouts with a promising three-pitch mix that included a sinker, slider and high-quality changeup. Evaluators raised questions about how consistently he’d throw strikes thanks to a high-effort delivery, though, with many projecting a future move to the bullpen.
While Bukauskas worked as a starter up through Double-A, he’s indeed moved to relief in recent years. At the 2019 trade deadline, Houston sent him to Arizona alongside Josh Rojas, Seth Beer and Corbin Martin in the Zack Greinke blockbuster. Bukauskas made two Double-A starts the rest of the year and didn’t pitch in 2020 because of the cancelation of the minor league season.
After the 2020 campaign, Arizona added him to the 40-man roster to keep him out of the Rule 5 draft. He was called up for his major league debut that April and wound up pitching 21 times out of Torey Lovullo’s bullpen. He allowed 19 runs in his first 17 1/3 innings, thanks largely to the four longballs he served up. Bukauskas struck out 14, walked seven and missed bats on a slightly above-average 12.2% of his offerings.
Unfortunately, injuries have thrown off his attempts to carve out a permanent spot in the Arizona relief corps. Bukauskas missed roughly six weeks in 2021 thanks to a strain in his throwing elbow. More notably, he began last season on the 60-day injured list after suffering a Grade 2 strain in the teres major muscle in his shoulder. That kept him out of action until mid-July, when he was reinstated and optioned to Triple-A Reno. He pitched quite well in that hitter-friendly environment, working to a 2.66 ERA with a solid 23.8% strikeout rate and an excellent 5% walk percentage over 20 1/3 relief innings.
Despite that performance, Arizona never gave him a look in a floundering MLB bullpen in 2022. He’s now been squeezed off the 40-man entirely, with the Snakes having a week to trade him or try to run him through waivers. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Bukauskas land elsewhere given his prospect pedigree and Triple-A performance last year. He still has a minor league option year remaining, so another team could keep him in Triple-A for a season if they’re willing to devote him a 40-man roster spot.