The Pittsburgh Pirates recently saw the return of a former second-round pick after missing over a year because of surgery and he impressed in his return to the mound
Back in 2018, the Pittsburgh Pirates took right-hander Braxton Ashcraft out of Robinson High School in Texas in the second round. Ashcraft signed for $1.825 million and was ranked as MLB Pipeline’s no. 64 top draft prospect. Although his first look against professional hitters didn’t go so well, Ashcraft was still considered a prospect of note in the system by 2020.
Given that there was no minor league season, Ashcraft, like many others, did not pitch in the COVID season. He returned to Greensboro in 2021 but struggled once again. Not only did he perform poorly, but he also pitched just 38.1 innings before landing on the injured list. The right-hander would eventually undergo the knife and receive the all-dreaded Tommy John Surgery.
That surgery eliminated him from playing in 2022. Many fans likely had forgotten about Ashcraft heading into 2023. After all, he had less than 50 innings pitched across the previous three seasons. On top of that, the Pirates had added a handful of pitching prospects to the system that overshadowed Ashcraft. Despite being an over-slot second-rounder, there are essentially no expectations for Ashcraft at the moment.
But in Ashcraft’s return, he looked outstanding. He only pitched three innings in a rehab start for the Bradenton Marauders, but he struck out five batters, didn’t allow a single free pass, and just a single hit. Needless to say, he didn’t allow a run. He was nearly perfect for three innings, which is a great way to rebound after barely pitching for three straight seasons. But more impressively, Ashcraft’s stuff looked great.
Ashcraft was sitting mid-90s with his four-seamer and sinker. He topped out at 97.6 MPH and averaged 95.8 MPH with his four-seamer/sinker. He only threw two four-seamers/sinkers below 94 MPH, and they still clocked in at 93.9 and 93.6 MPH. His curveball also consistently sat with above 50 inches of vertical break.
This kind of power fastball was not what Ashcraft was known for. According to MLB Pipeline, he was sitting around 94 MPH in their write-up on the right-hander in 2019. According to FanGraphs’ report on the right-hander in 2019, Ashcraft was sitting 89-93 MPH and topping out at 95 MPH. Granted, while many predicted he could add some velocity, seeing him nearly hit 98 MPH after nearly three years of inconsistent play is impressive, to say the least.
Now at 23 years old, Ashcraft may make his way to Altoona this year. It would be a nice comeback story for the right-hander. On top of that, it’s nice to see a guy effectively throwing in the upper-90s after years of layoff. Hopefully, Ashcraft will regain the talent that made him a second-round draft pick by the Pirates in 2018.