Prospect Q&A: Astros' J.B. Bukauskas

March 20th, 2018

JUPITER, Fla. -- As part of MLB Pipeline's visit to all 30 Spring Training facilities, we're sitting down with prospects and getting to know them a little better. At Astros camp, it was Houston's No. 3 prospect, J.B. Bukauskas.
Bukauskas was a good pitching prospect at Stone Bridge High School in Virginia who jumped on radars when he reclassified as a senior in 2014 and was throwing in the mid-90s. He made his intentions clear that he planned to head to the University of North Carolina and that's exactly what he did, emerging as a first-round pick three years later. The Astros selected him No. 15 overall in the 2017 Draft and he threw 10 innings in his brief pro debut last summer.
Astros camp report
MLB Pipeline: This is your first Spring Training. Is it what you expected? How has it been going so far?
:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::
Bukauskas: It's been going good. It's a lot of what I expected. Being at UNC, we had a lot of guys come back all the time and give you an idea of what it'll be like. It's good to have that. We have some Carolina guys here within the organization, which makes the transition a little bit easier. The days are a little bit longer than they were in college, but I guess that's what you should expect, it's your job now.
MLB Pipeline: What was the difference for you in terms of preparing for this year? The offseason must've been a different thing in terms of preparing to pitch every five days and for a long full season. How was it different?
Bukauskas: The workout routine was a little bit different. I had to get ready for a much longer season. The throwing program, building up to get ready to get on the mound was a little more rigorous, a little bit longer. But other than that, I kind of took the same mentality. I just wanted to prepare to be able to do the best I can during the season.
MLB Pipeline: I'm sure you've been told about how much of a grind this first full season can be, about the wall a lot of prospects hit during it. Without actually having experienced it for yourself yet, how can you use that to inform your preparation?
Bukauskas: I'm taking a lot of advice from, No. 1, the coaching staff and the strength coaches, just trying to follow what they wanted me to do. Then, on top of that, I'm taking advice from guys who are my friends who had just finished their first full seasons. If they're saying take it lighter, sometimes go a little heavier, I try to follow along with what they say because they've been through it before and I haven't.
MLB Pipeline: You've been a starter, so that's nothing new. But the whole pacing yourself thing, is that hard, especially for a guy like you who is kind of high-energy, up-tempo on the mound? Will you have to remind yourself that this is a marathon?
Bukauskas: And not a sprint. I'm going to try my best. I'll listen to the coaches in what they'll have me do. I know how to pitch the way I know how to pitch. We've been working on some things that we hope will pay off throughout the season.
MLB Pipeline: What kinds of things have you been working on?
Bukauskas: We've been working on the changeup a lot. I'm throwing it a lot and getting more comfortable with it. Other than that, it's been about getting the arm strength built back up and fine-tuning the slider a little bit.
MLB Pipeline: Going back to Draft day a little bit, it's not like you slid out of the first round, but you did go from being a guy being mentioned near the top of the round to someone who went in the middle of it. Was that something you paid attention to at all?
Bukauskas: I don't really know that it was that big of a deal in my mind because I pitched how I pitched. I did hit a little wall there, even at the end of the college season; I didn't pitch great down the stretch. But I couldn't be any happier with where I am. I feel I'm developing a lot as a player. I think everything works out for a reason. I love the Astros organization.
MLB Pipeline: You walked in and they won a World Series. That must've been fun to watch.
Bukauskas: Exactly. It's hard to complain about that, coming to a World Series winner. It's been great. I tried not to think about slipping in the Draft because it was all going to work out.
MLB Pipeline: As an "undersized right-hander," do you have a chip on your shoulder at all that motivates you? Even coming out of high school, there were those who said "He's too small to be a starter."
Bukauskas: Maybe a little bit. The more I'm around here, I see it's more about your stuff and how you go out and compete and pitch. If you get guys out, it's not going to hold you back at all. Maybe I carry it a little bit if I hear it or read it. Other than that, I try not to think about it and think about doing what I do on the mound and getting people out. It's about staying level and keep doing what I've always been doing. If you go out and show people you can do it, eventually you'll open their eyes and they'll see you can do it.
MLB Pipeline: Do you have any specific goals for this season?
Bukauskas: I think I mostly really just want to develop. I want to get really comfortable throwing my changeup. I don't have anything specific as far as levels or stats or anything like that. I really just want to improve as a baseball player. I think all of that stuff will follow if you do what you're supposed to do, listen to the coaching staff and get better.
MLB Pipeline: Since your high school days, you've always had such a clear idea of the path you wanted to take, reclassifying early so you could get to North Carolina. From where you stand right now, is this pretty much how you drew it up?
Bukauskas: That's about right. Coming out of high school, there definitely were some thoughts going into the Draft, but I was mostly about going to school. If there was a perfect picture drawn up, I think this would probably be about it. I went to a great school, then got picked by a great organization. There's another couple of steps to it, but I'm just trying my best to make it up to the bigs.