3 prospects the Pirates should try and hold onto if they are buyers

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a good chance to be buyers in July, but they should still try and keep these prospects in trades.
Jul 29, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first round pick Termarr Johnson and fourth overall player drafted in the 2022 MLB Draft on the field before the Pirates host the Philadelphia Phillies at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 29, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first round pick Termarr Johnson and fourth overall player drafted in the 2022 MLB Draft on the field before the Pirates host the Philadelphia Phillies at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in years, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a good chance of being buyers in July. They've played some solid ball over their last 30-35 games and are in the thick of a Wild Card race. It's also very much a possibility they could take over the National League Central, provided they get hot or a division rival hits a cold snap.

The Pirates have built up a good farm system with a lot of pitching, which they'd likely use to negotiate in trade talks. However, while none of their prospects should be off-limits, there are some players the Pirates should hold onto or not let go unless an exorbitant price is met. It might be more valuable to the Pirates to keep them rather than trade them.

Pittsburgh Pirates should keep these prospects at 2024 MLB trade deadline

Termarr Johnson

The Pittsburgh Pirates' best position player prospect (by far) is Termarr Johnson. The infielder was the Pirates' first-round pick in 2022, and while he got off to a slow start to 2024, he still has one of the highest ceilings in the minor leagues among any position player prospect. Luckily, he's started to heat up as the weather has gotten warmer.

Johnson owns a .218/.381/.359 triple-slash on the season. While that might not look too impressive, keep in mind the league average OPS in the South Atlantic League is about as low as it was during the Deadball Era. Once adjusting to a pitcher-friendly environment, Johnson's production comes out with a quality 118 wRC+. Johnson has only struck out 21.8% of the time with an impressive 18.1% walk rate.

But since May 18, the second baseman has been hitting .270/.390/.500 with a .405 wOBA and 147 wRC+. While his 13.8% walk rate isn't nearly as high as his season total, it is still well above average. Plus, he's striking out less than 20% of the time with a 19.5% K%. Johnson is also hitting for pop, with a .230 isolated slugging percentage and five homers over his last 123 plate appearances.

Johnson is an above-average runner who projects as a solid defensive second baseman. He could be a potential 20/20 threat in the future. His bat has developed slower than anticipated, but he just turned 20 earlier this month and is already at High-A. It's not surprising that there've been some growing pains, though he is on the right trend.

The Pirates need long-term hitters, and trading the one and only great position player prospect in the system is a little counter-intuitive, unless they're getting a good, proven hitter back in a trade with more than three years of control remaining beyond 2024. I understand you have to give something to get something, but trading Johnson when you need long-term position players could cause an issue down the line.

Braxton Ashcraft

Braxton Ashcraft has proven many doubters wrong over the last two years. Heading into 2023, many were skeptical about Ashcraft's potential future. He threw less than 50 innings from 2020-2022, not pitching because of the shutdown COVID season, then undergoing Tommy John in 2021, keeping him out for all of 2022. But the former second-round pick impressed many with a 2.39 ERA, 2.85 FIP, and 1.08 WHIP when he returned, somehow showing no ill effects from an extended development gap.

The questions heading into this year only centered around whether or not he could be a starter long-term. He was limited to just 52.2 innings in '23 across 19 outings, never throwing more than four innings in any start. He's gone least five innings in eight of his last ten starts, topping out at seven innings twice, and his performance hasn't taken a hit, either. 

Since the start of May, Ashcraft has a 2.17 ERA, 2.21 FIP, and 0.95 WHIP in 49.2 innings pitched. He's striking out 29.8% of the batters he's facing while only allowing a walk 4.5% of the time. Ashcraft has been immune to home runs as well, allowing just a pair of dingers, leading to a 0.36 HR/9 rate.

Ashcraft has been able to carry his velocity deep into games as well. Since arriving at Triple-A Indy, he has sat 95.7 MPH with above-average ride through the strike zone. He also tosses an upper-80s slider that's generated whiffs 45.5% of the time so far in his two Triple-A outings. Ashcraft throws an upper-80s change-up and mixes in a low-80s curveball. He also can command everything very well.

Ashcraft is someone the Pirates could slot into the major league pitching staff right now if they wanted. He could potentially make his debut before the All-Star break. Even though the Pirates' pitching staff is already good, Ashcraft can make it great. With him already being on the 40-man roster, the fact he's doing so well and has made so much progress over the last two seasons, and the fact he could make a massive impact on the second half of the Pirates' season, the Bucs should try and keep Ashcraft.

Thomas Harrington

After the Pirates took Termarr Johnson in the 2022 draft, they then selected right-handed pitcher Thomas Harrington in the competitive balance round. Last year, he turned in a very promising 3.53 ERA, 4.00 FIP, and 1.24 WHIP between Bradenton and Greensboro. Although Harrington missed the first month of the 2024 season, he's picked up right where he left off last year, and then some.

Through 34.2 frames, Harrington has a 2.86 ERA, 2.84 FIP, and 1.01 WHIP. He's continued to strike out over a quarter of the batters he's squared off against, sporting a 26.3% K%; his microscopic 2.2% walk rate has been even more impressive. His 1.6% walk rate at Double-A is the third-lowest among any pitcher with at least five games started (he also made one bullpen appearance). Harrington has only allowed three home runs all season.

Harrington sits 92-94 but with good ride through the strike zone. His best pitch is his sweeping slider, but he also will toss a cutter and curveball. Harrington's changeup represents another above-average pitch he can rely on. Everything also plays up because he commands his array of offerings well.

Of the three players we've talked about today, it feels like the Pirates would be most willing to move Harrington, but he might be the Pirates' best pitching prospect, even beyond Bubba Chandler. He's an extremely advanced pitcher who has done exceptionally well at Double-A so far. He's yet another young and talented arm the Pirates could slot into their rotation as soon as next season. The Pirates shouldn't be willing to deal him for anything less than an all-star caliber bat.