Showcase : : Story
Tuesday, June 11, 2013

An encore performance

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MINNEAPOLIS -- After throwing three innings in the first of three 10-inning games at the 2013 Perfect Game Junior National Showcase on Tuesday, right-handed pitcher Jacob Bukauskas unwound by jogging slowly along the warning track in the outfield of Mall of America Field inside the Metrodome.

"I didn't have my best stuff; I was a little bit tight," Bukauskas said after his short jog. "I pitched on Saturday (with the EvoShield Canes) so I didn't have my best stuff today."

The outing -- which really wasn't bad at all; his fastball reached 93 and he struck out five -- is unlikely to change anyone's mind about Bukauskas' abilities, despite his own reservations. A 6-foot-1, 175-pound righty from Ashburn, Va., who just wrapped up his sophomore year at Stone Bridge High School, he came into his second Perfect Game Junior National Showcase ranked as the No. 11 overall (No. 4 RHP) prospect in the 2015 national high school class and is the top-ranked 2015 prospect in the state of Virginia. He has already committed to the University of North Carolina.

And yes, this is Bukauskas' second PG Junior National. He attended this event last year right here in the Metrodome as a young prospect who had just completed his freshman year in high school and earned a 9.5 PG grade (with 10.0 being the highest). A year ago his fastball sat in the 86-88 mph range and PG scouts were impressed:

"Slender young build that projects well," the PG scouting report read, adding that Bukauskas "throws strikes with all pitches and mixes it up; hard to hit."

North Carolina coaches that were in attendance were also impressed. It was after that event the Tar Heels offered him a scholarship.

"This isn't hot air, but this PG stuff is as good as it gets," Jacob's father, Ken Bukauskas said from the Metrodome Tuesday afternoon. "In July we're going to be going week to week to week; high school was fun but he was chomping at the bit to come up here this week. This is (the type of event) that he'll be coming to every year because of what it did for him last year. It really was this PG Junior National last year that sent him off to the races. It's just such great exposure and the kids just clamor to it."

Bukauskas' association with the EvoShield Canes, which began last summer, has also been a boon. Jeff Petty and the Canes organization have a knack for pointing young prospects in the right direction and getting them to the most high-profile events, ones that will get the kids the most exposure.

"It's been really good," Bukauskas said of his time with the Canes. "As soon as I started talking with them they got me to come up to this event last year as a 2015 at a 2014 event, and I threw really well. I started talking to a couple of colleges, including North Carolina. I went on my visit and committed and that was my first memory of the Canes. I tell people that it's a great organization and they help kids get to college really fast.

"North Carolina is always where I wanted to go; it's been my dream school forever," he continued. "The campus is beautiful and you can't get much better than number-one in the country."

(Note: North Carolina, Perfect Game's No. 1-ranked college team most of the season, goes into this week's NCAA Division I College World Series ranked No. 5 in PG's latest College Top 25 rankings).

Bukauskas didn't start his baseball career with the Canes, although it might seem that way. He's been playing baseball all his life and use to work out with the Stone Bridge High School team when he was still in middle school.

He was a third basemen as a little-leaguer but also took part in some workouts throwing from the outfield to third base. After some coaches saw his arm strength, the decision was made to try young Jacob out on the pitcher's mound.

"I never really decided to pitch, somebody decided that for me," Bukauskas said with a laugh. "They saw me throwing out in the outfield and they saw that I had a pretty good arm, so they put me on the bump. That was when I was 11 or 12 and they started developing me along and I went from there."

Bukauskas has not worked with any one specific pitching coach to this point in his career but plans to start working with the EvoShield Canes' pitching, strength and conditioning coach Jamie Evans, using Evans' velocity program.

"Things have been going pretty good," Bukauskas said of his development. "Today wasn't my best outing; I didn't have the velocity that I normally have, but I've been progressing pretty good. Last year I came here and I just wanted to see a gain, mainly, from last year to this year, and I did that, so it was a successful outing. Today was fun; this event is always good. I came last year and it was a great event, and it's great to be back."

In fact, the longer Bukauskas spoke on Tuesday the more it became increasingly evident that the PG Junior National Showcase is, in his mind anyway, the greatest event on the planet. As a PG staffer commented early in the day on Tuesday, Disney World isn't the happiest place on earth, the Metrodome on PG Junior National Opening Day is.

"Obviously, you see the best competition from around the country out here; if you only play local you're not going to see this," Bukauskas said. "It's a great environment being able to play in the Metrodome, and all these other cool things (that surround it). This definitely pushes you a little bit differently then high school baseball and other types of baseball because you're playing with the best guys and you know you have to be at the top of your game to be able to compete, let alone standout. You're always trying to push yourself."

His father concurred:

"I can tell you flat out that it's about the competition," Ken Bukauskas said. "It's so good -- the first couple of guys (Jacob) faced out there today were a couple of Florida State, Miami, Oregon and Ole Miss commits and it's tough to find that kind of stuff (at another underclass event). He really relished the opportunity to come here and see some really good competition."

Bukauskas plans on doing double-duty this summer, playing with both the EvoShield Canes 14u and 15u national teams. He'll spend about five weeks from late June through early August playing in the PG WWBA 14u and 15u National Championships in Marietta, Ga., and the 14u and 15u Perfect Game World Series' in Fort Myers, Fla. He has two more seasons of summer ball and two more high school seasons to work on the one aspect of his game that he feels needs the most improvement.

"I need to definitely learn to stay focused on keeping my composure on the mound," Bukauskas said. "I wouldn't say I lose myself out on the mound but if I don't do (as well) I normally should it definitely gets in my head a little bit. That's the main thing I really want to work on right now."

His dad was sitting by himself far down the left field line in the lower level of the Metrodome, watching his only son perform on the bright green turf below.

"The butterflies never go away; it was much easier playing myself than watching him play," Ken said with a laugh. "But it's very fun, very fun and the best part of it is seeing him compete at the highest level we can find."

Ken Bukauskas played high school ball and went on to play at the United States Naval Academy at the collegiate level. He bemoans the fact that there wasn't anything like Perfect Game around when he was a youngster.

"I never did any of these kind of things. Twenty-five years ago there wasn't this kind of stuff," he said. "It was all high school baseball stuff back then and now he's on the EvoShield Canes and they give him such huge opportunities to be seen and play with high-level kids and against high-level competition. That's what makes it so enjoyable -- there wasn't anything like this 25 years ago and its blossomed really fast in the last 10 years."

Sort of like his son has in the last year alone.

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