The Mariners announced that they have claimed right-hander J.B. Bukauskas off waivers from the Diamondbacks. In a corresponding move, outfielder Alberto Rodriguez has been designated for assignment. Bukauskas was designated for assignment last week when the D-Backs re-signed Zach Davies.
Bukauskas, 26, was a first round draft pick of the Astros in 2017 and he landed on top prospect lists shortly thereafter. However, many evaluators predicted his inability to consistently throw strikes would lead to a bullpen move down the line. Those predictions proved to be fairly astute as Bukauskas moved up the minor league ladder and struggled with walks. In 85 2/3 innings for Houston’s Double-A affiliate in 2019, he walked 14.2% of batters faced and posted a 5.25 ERA.
The Diamondbacks acquired Bukauskas alongside three other players when they traded Zack Greinke to Houston and have since had him spend most of his time as a reliever. His control has certainly improved in that time but injuries have limited him to a small workload. In 2021, he only pitched 30 innings between the majors and the minors due to a strain in his throwing elbow. Last year, a Grade 2 strain in the teres major muscle in his shoulder put him on the injured list from the start of the year until July. The D-Backs kept him on the farm once he was healthy, but he fared well there. He posted a 2.42 ERA in 22 1/3 innings while striking out 25.3% of batters faced and walking just 4.6% of them. Most of that work came in the Pacific Coast League as well, which has a reputation for being quite hitter-friendly.
The M’s have decided to take a shot on Bukauskas to see if they can be the ones to benefit from a breakout. The righty still has an option year remaining, allowing them to keep him in the minors until he’s needed with the big league club. He also has just over a year of service time and can be kept around for the foreseeable future as long as he holds a spot on the 40-man.
In order to take a chance on Bukauskas, the M’s are risking losing the 22-year-old Rodriguez. An amateur signing of the Blue Jays, he was traded to the Mariners as part of the 2020 deal that sent Taijuan Walker to the Jays. In 2021, he hit .289/.379/.470 between Single-A and High-A, a strong enough showing to get him added to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 draft. Last year, he went back to High-A and still hit fairly well. His .261/.336/.396 showing was good enough for a 106 wRC+, or 6% above league average. However, he struck out in 26.2% of his plate appearances and only stole six bases after going well into double digits in previous seasons.
The Mariners will now have a week to trade Rodriguez or pass him through waivers. Though his 2022 season wasn’t ideal, he’s still a young and talented outfielder who has a couple of option years remaining. As recently as midway through 2022, Baseball America still considered him one of the club’s top 30 prospects.
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