North Carolina's coaching staff persuaded Stone Bridge High (Ashburn, Va.) right-hander J.B. Bukauskas to reclassify last summer, so he could graduate early this June and become a Tar Heel a year ahead of schedule. But with the way he has thrown this spring as a junior-turned-senior, he may never set foot on campus.
After throwing mostly 88-92 mph last summer, when scouts paid him little attention because they didn't think he'd be Draft-eligible until 2015, Bukauskas caused jaws to drop when he came out throwing 94-97 mph in the first inning of his first start of the season in March. Last week, he struck out a school-record 18 batters and hit 100 mph in a win over West Potomac High (Alexandria, Va.).
"He puts big numbers on the radar gun," a national crosshecker said. "He was 96 or 97 the day I saw him. He's a little guy with a big arm, but he's not as big as Dylan Bundy and it's not a smooth delivery like Bundy. It's max effort. It's a big arm in a little body."
Therein lies the rub with Bukauskas. He's only 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, and the effort he expends has some evaluators questioning if he can handle the demands of starting at the professional level. Craig Kimbrel has dominated as a 5-foot-11 closer, though he has a stronger build and a smoother delivery.
One of the youngest players in the 2014 Draft, Bukauskas won't turn 18 until Oct. 11. Along with his blazing fastball and youth, he also has the making of a solid slider in the low 80s. He's still refining his changeup, control and command.
"He's got a pretty good breaking ball, too, but it's hard to take that body and delivery with your first pick," the crosschecker said. "If you have multiple picks, then you could take him in the first couple of rounds, but you might be getting a reliever. I like him but I didn't love him, and with my first pick, I want to love him."