Name: Billy Buckner
Weight: 210 lbs
History: With the 55th overall pick in the 2004 Amateur Draft, the Kansas City Royals selected right-handed pitcher Billy Buckner. With the 56th overall pick, the Arizona Diamondbacks selected outfielder Jon Zeringue out of LSU.
If the Diamondback organization had their eyes on Buckner over Zeringue that year, they've now finally got their man. Zeringue never blossomed with the Diamondbacks. He spent most of 2007 with the Oakland Athletics' High-A affiliate (where else?) at 24 years of age. Buckner has similarly had his share of problems in the Royals' organization, which is why they deemed him expendable enough to take a flyer on Alberto Callaspo, a talented infielder with off-the-field troubles.
In fairness, virtually none of the Diamondbacks current front office staff was around back in 2004. They see Buckner as an obvious talent that can become a fantastic pitcher with a couple of adjustments, not unlike Dustin Nippert. The Royals used the career starter in fifteen relief appearances across three levels last year, and that adjustment alone appeared to spur him onto excellence. Buckner totaled 32.2 innings, 33 hits, 28 strikeouts, 11 walks, and a 3.03 ERA in the bullpen.
|Minor League Totals||32||28||4.27||95||80||474.0||504||258||225||51||185||433||1.45|
Statistics Courtesy of The Baseball Cube
The primary reason Buckner fared better in a relief role lies in his limited repertoire. His 12-to-6 knuckle curve had been the best breaking pitch in the Royals' organization, but he still cannot always throw it for strikes.
"It's erratic at times, but it's my power pitch, my out pitch," Buckner told RoyalsCorner.com, FutureBacks' sister site on the Scout.com Network. "I use it in all different counts now. It used to just be a two-strike pitch, but I wanted to learn how to locate it for early in the count. Early in the count, I can throw it for strikes and get people to chase it later in the count."
The trouble occurs in those outings when Buckner doesn't have his best curveball. He has a decent low-90s fastball, but without the threat of that curveball, hitters can wait on it and mash. Developing a consistent changeup would allow Buckner to fool hitters the second or third time through the order even on those games when his devastating hammer isn't on. Buckner has only been throwing his change for a couple of years now. While he's becoming more confident with it, it still needs work.
At the major league level last year, Buckner had two one-run appearances on five-plus innings, and two outings of six earned runs. At Triple-A, he had three outings in which he gave up double-digits in hits, but also an eight-inning one-hitter and two seven-plus-inning shutouts. It's easy to identify which games his curveball was working well for him.
Major League Clone: David Bush
Prediction: Buckner has often been compared to Kevin Millwood. Millwood has a slider that Buckner doesn't possess, and has a bit of size on the new Diamondback as well. David Bush represents a more accurate and realistic comparison, although Bush displays consistent control while Buckner does not. It could also wind up that neither comparison works well, with that lack of a solid changeup relegating Buckner to the bullpen.
ETA: Although Buckner threw 34 innings for the Royals last year, he is unlikely to receive as much playing time on a Diamondbacks team expected to contend. Buckner profiles as a late developer, and the Diamondbacks may elect to save a player option on him by keeping Buckner in Tucson until rosters expand. Otherwise, we'll see him shuttled back and forth from Tucson much as Nippert was last season.
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