After struggling in 2019, Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Braxton Ashcraft will be looking to take a step forward if/when the 2020 season begins.
With the 51st overall selection in the 2018 MLB Draft the Pittsburgh Pirates selected pitcher Braxton Ashcraft. The Pirates selected Ashcraft out of Robinson High School in Waco, Texas. After signing, Ashcraft quickly made his pro debut and immediately became one of the Pirates top pitching prospects.
Ashcraft pitched in five games for the GCL Pirates in 2018. In these five starts he posted a 4.58 ERA, 5.13 FIP, 6.6% walk rate ,15.8% strikeout rate, and he allowed two home runs in 17.2 innings of work. Obviously, this was not the start to pro ball that Ashcraft was hoping for.
In 2019, at just 19-years-old, Ashcraft made the jump to the short-season West Virginia Black Bears of the New York Penn League. With the Black Bears, Ashcraft did not find the success he had hoped for. However, it was a good learning experience.
Ashcraft made 11 starts for the Black Bears and pitched 53 innings. He saw his home run rate drop from 1.02 HR/9 in the GCL to 0.68 HR/9, while his strikeout rate improved to 16.7%. However, how walk rate jumped to 9.4%. He finished the season with a 5.77 ERA, but a more inspiring 4.33 FIP.
MLB Pipeline ranks Ashcraft as the 14th best prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. This puts him as the 4th highest rated pitching prospect in the system, but one of the three ahead of him is Mitch Keller, who, if/when the season begins, will lose his prospect status.
Two areas you would like to see Ashcraft improve in 2020 are strikeout rate and stranding runners. Ashcraft’s 16.7% strikeout rate is below average, but it is not uncommon for young pitchers to see an increase in strikeout rate as they get older and they continue to refine their pitches.
As for his ability to strand runners, this was something he struggled mightily with in 2019. His left on base rate was just 49.7%, which was a big drop off from him 70.8% strand rate in 2018. Undoubtedly, this played a role in his ERA rising by over a run.
Ashcraft will also need to continue to work on his secondary pitches in 2020. His fastball routinely sits in the mid-90s, and his second best pitch is a slider that is in the 82-85 MPH range. He also throws a change up, but it is behind the other two pitches.
This season Ashcraft will want to continue to work on his fastball control. It will also be important for him to continue to refine his slider, while improving his change up. In the long run, the development of his change up could be the difference between Ashcraft’s long term future being as a starting pitcher or as a reliever.