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From first base to pitching: meet Jacob Bosiokovic

Recently promoted to AAA, he may be a name to pay attention to.

NLCS Game 5: Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals
It should be obvious why this is the picture
Zia Nizami/Belleville News-Democrat/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

If I were to tell you that a recently promoted 27-year-old relief-only pitcher had his debut at AAA recently, you would stare at me blankly wondering why I chose to tell you that. If I told you he struck out 4 in two scoreless innings, you’d say cool 27-year-old relievers probably do that all the time in AAA. But if I were to tell you that he made his professional pitching debut at 25-years-old, then you might be intrigued. Now you have a reason why he’s 27 in AAA for the first time that isn’t “he probably sucks.”

The player in question is Jacob Bosiokovic, a 6’6 right-handed pitcher who the Cardinals selected in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft back in December of 2019. He had just completed his first minor league season as a pitcher for the Rockies organization and the Cardinals liked what he showed enough to select him. They selected him with two other pitchers, Enrique Saldana and Jordan Brinks. Brinks was selected in the minor league part of the Rule 5 draft by the Rays last December, making him a Cardinal for exactly one year without ever throwing a pitch in a game.

Saldana is not quite as interesting as Bosiokovic and is much farther away, but it is a little weird he was eligible for the Rule 5 minor league draft. May have something to do with spending too long at one level. He was signed for $500,000 out of Panama as an infielder. He had a decent debut season in the DSL at 17, and then got a little worse the next year. So they decided to convert him to pitcher at 19. He had a rough 11 games in his first season, but in his second season as a pitcher, he had fairly solid numbers as a starter. He’s still in the DSL at this point. Cards selected him based off having a little video of him pitching against their teams. At the complex, he has a 26.2 K% and 7.8 BB% with a 2.77 ERA and 3.90 FIP. Of course, now he’s 22, so this makes him not much of a prospect.

Back to Bosiokovic. Coming out of high school, Bosiokovic was a 6’6, 210 pound shortstop who was selected as Division Player of the Year in Ohio for two straight seasons. Having already committed to Ohio State, he went undrafted. That’s not why he was undrafted though, because from an article at the time, “But talking with people, I figured if I wasn’t drafted in the top 10 rounds I was going to go to Ohio State anyway” which sure makes it sound like he would have signed with an MLB team were he drafted in the first 10 rounds.

So easily the weirdest thing about my research into him is that I couldn’t find any article mention his pitching in high school. Everything mentions his batting. But he was a two-way prospect of sorts. Perfect Game has him as a 3B/RHP, and a site called prepbaseball reports has him as a 3B/RHP. In fact, prepbaseball has a little blurb about his pitching and nothing about his hitting.

The 6-foot-6, 190-pound prospect uses a quick and short arm action to generate an easy 85-87 mph fastball. With his size and frame, he will surely add additional velocity as he continues to fill out. Even more impressive, Bosiokovic showed three consistent off speed pitches. He uses a sharp 79 mph slider with late breaking 11/5 movement. In addition, he shows a slower, early breaking curveball that sits at 71 mph. Lastly, the Ohio State recruit shows a developing straight changeup with good arm action.

He went to Ohio State and literally never pitched. Kind of strange that the one scouting report I found on him was about his pitching and there’s very little indication in anything else I’ve found that he was going to pitch at Ohio State. Which he didn’t. He hit. Ohio State immediately moved him from SS to 3B, probably because of his size, where he struggled in his first year there with errors. He had two unremarkable seasons at 3B before needing Tommy John surgery after his sophomore year. He took a redshirt year and broke out during his redshirt junior season, raising his OPS from the low .700s he managed his first two years to .836. It was enough to get drafted.

The Rockies chose him in the 19th round of the 2016 MLB draft. They sent him to short season A ball, where he dominated to the tune of a 128 wRC+. By this point, he was a first baseman and corner outfielder, so he wasn’t providing much in the way of defense. He did pretty well in Low A too with a 117 wRC+. High A was his kryptonite. He had a 37 wRC+ with a 38.6 K% in 171 PAs. At which point the Rockies remembered he was kind of a pitching prospect out of high school.

He started his pitching career in Low A and he was... okay. He pitched in 33 games - 44.2 innings pitched - and had reasonable numbers all-around. 23.2 K%, 8.8 BB%, 4.54 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 3.83 xFIP. Really not bad for a guy who hadn’t pitched since high school. So in the same Rule 5 draft that they took Saldana from the Rockies, they took the 25-year-old 6’6 reliever with one year of professional experience as a pitcher.

Luckily for the Cards, no team expressed interest in picking up Bosiokovic like the Rays did with Brinks. So with just that one year of professional experience, the Cardinals sent him to AA to begin 2021. I know he did some work last year in some capacity, but that still seems like a decent leap for a guy with as little pitching experience as Bosiokovic.

Well, their aggressiveness was rewarded. His line in AA this year:

48.1. IP, 32.6 K%, 13 BB%, 4.28 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 3.88 xFIP

And as you can imagine for a guy who has to adjust to a level, he started a little shaky. In his first month in AA, he had a 6.88 ERA with a 24.4 K%. To pick an arbitrary date, since July 14th, Bosiokovic has a 39.5 K% with an 11.6 BB% and a 2.25 ERA. Obvious control problems here, but once you started striking out a third of hitters, you can live with control problems.

And for whatever it’s worth, he’s mostly doing this as a multi-inning reliever. Of his 31 games pitched, he’s recorded more than three outs in 20 of them. In 15 of them, he’s pitched at least two innings. This seems like a guy worth paying attention to, who stands a halfway decent shot of actually making the majors.

I cannot give you a scouting report, but Birds on the Black writer Kyle Reis has posted quite a few helpful gifs to maybe help give an idea. Here’s his heater, though the speed is unknown to me.

A couple of breaking pitches, which look sliders to me in the following two:

And here’s a sequence of how he works, with a three-pitch strikeout of some poor hitter.

I don’t know if it matters, but he is actually Rule 5 eligible. Is he ready for the show? Hard to say. I can certainly look at his numbers and imagine him being able to post halfway decent, if not good numbers at the major league numbers pretty easily. And some team might think the same. So he may very well need to be protected. Which may be why the Cards have him at AAA, to see how he does in the last month of the year. So far, so good.

Also a note: Auditions for his nickname please, because I have to check and double check every time I write his last name. First submission: Bosco. Only problem is I immediately think of Sergeant Bosco from Bob’s Burgers. Eh that might not be a problem actually.