After missing almost three full seasons, Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Braxton Ashcraft impressed in his return to the mound this past season
There may not have been a bigger wild card in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system entering the 2023 season than right-handed pitcher Braxton Ashcraft. This was due to a combination of injuries and the COVID season that led to no minor league games being played limiting him to just 10 games the previous three seasons.
There was no minor league season in 2020 due to COVID, and Ashcraft dealt with injuries during the 2021 and 2022 seasons. Due to this, it was unclear if he even still held much prospect status entering the 2023 season.
To Ashcraft's credit he did not just return to the mound in 2023, he was extremely impressive in the process. The 2023 season Ashcraft had put him back on the map as a pitching prospect in the Pirate farm system.
Ashcraft pitched for Low-A Bradenton, High-A Greensboro, and Double-A Altoona. Across the three levels Ashcraft made 19 starts and pitched 52.2 innings. While Ashcraft's innings were limited due to the time he had missed but he certainly made the most of these innings.
In his 52.2 innings pitched Ashcraft posted a 2.39 ERA and a 2.85 FIP. He limited opposing batters to a .229 batting average, walked 5.2% of batters faced, struck out opposing batters at a 29.6% clip, and allowed just 4 home runs (0.68 HR/9).
Both Ashcraft's slider and curveball have the potential to be plus pitches. His changeup also can be a strong pitch, but there is more work to be done there. He compliments all of it with a four-semaed fastball.
Ashcraft just turned 24-years-old earlier this month. Looking ahead to 2024, it will be interesting to see what the Pirates do with him. Does he work as a traditional starting pitcher? Do they move him to a relief role?
Also, where will he begin his season? With the time he's missed it would make sense for him to start back at Double-A Altoona, but Ben Cherington has been aggressive with prospects in the past so we could see him at Triple-A Indy.