HOUSTON -- Throughout his high school career, J.B. Bukauskas was compared to Oakland A's pitcher Sonny Gray, another hard-throwing right-hander who stands about 6 feet tall. The Astros saw the similarities, as well, and can only hope Bukauskas lives up to the billing.The Astros selected the University of North Carolina
HOUSTON -- Throughout his high school career, J.B. Bukauskas was compared to Oakland A's pitcher Sonny Gray, another hard-throwing right-hander who stands about 6 feet tall. The Astros saw the similarities, as well, and can only hope Bukauskas lives up to the billing.
The Astros selected the University of North Carolina right-hander with the No. 15 overall pick with their first of four picks in Monday's MLB Draft. The Astros also were to pick 53rd, 56th and 75th on Monday. Bukauskas, whose pick comes with a bonus slot of $3,588,200, was watching the Draft at a hotel in Durham, N.C., with his parents when he heard his name called on TV.
• Astros' 53rd overall pick: Joe Perez
• Astros' 56th overall: Corbin Martin
• Astros' 75th overall: J.J. Matijevic
:: 2017 MLB Draft coverage ::
"It's kind of an indescribable moment, something you dream about your entire life, to hear your named called on the MLB Draft," he said. "It's been a whirlwind. Me and my family were reminiscing on all the hard work I put in, and we're really excited to be here and we're super excited with what has happened."
Bukauskas, who followed a strong sophomore season at UNC with a spectacular summer with the USA Collegiate National Team, said being compared to Gray is a compliment.
"Being what some people have called an undersized right-hander, it's really special to be compared to him because I've grown up watching him and modeling my game after him a little bit," Bukauskas said. "It's just really cool to be mentioned in that caliber."
The Draft continues on Tuesday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com preview show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage beginning at noon CT.
Bukauskas has a fastball that sits at 93-94 mph and touches 98 mph and a hard breaking slider that hits 86 mph. He's also developing a changeup, which he will need to refine because the Astros plan to develop him as a starter.
Astros director of scouting and player development Mike Elias isn't sure at what level Bukauskas will start for the Astros, though he could skip the short-season clubs considering his experience and level of competition. The 20-year-old went 9-1 with a 2.53 ERA in 15 starts this year, striking out 116 batters and walking 37 in 92 2/3 innings.
"He's a young junior with a three-pitch mix, plus his fastball we've gotten up to 98," Elias said. "He has a plus slider and a changeup he hasn't used a ton at the college level because he hasn't had to but we view as a future above-average pitch as well. To get that kind of power stuff in the middle of the first round is a coup for us, and we had him rated as early first-round talent."
Astros area scout Tim Bittner called Bukauskas a "quiet bulldog."
"From the start, after the anthem, once he takes the mound, he's very cool, he's very under control, but it's a determined look," he said. "Very few things rattle him, whether he's getting squeezed or things going on behind him. He's a guy that keeps his head and stays the course throughout the game."
Elias said Bukauskas has tools to succeed, no matter the size.
"He's plenty big," he said. "It's all about the results and the stuff coming out of your hand."
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.