Fans didn’t know what to expect from Braxton Ashcraft heading into the 2023 season. A former second-round pick, Ashcraft had basically missed three seasons. He didn’t pitch in 2020 because the minor league season was canceled; he only threw 38.2 innings in 2021 but then underwent Tommy John surgery, which not only eliminated him from the rest of ‘21 but the entirety of 2022 as well. But regardless of the unknown expectations, Ashcraft has put any questions about his ability aside with a strong 2023 season.
In 43.2 innings, Ashcraft owns a 2.70 ERA, 2.85 FIP, and 1.11 WHIP. While Ashcraft’s 30% strikeout rate is strong, his 4.7% walk rate is even better. Ashcraft is among the best in K:BB ratio, sitting at 6.33. Among all minor leaguers with at least 40 frames this year, Ashcraft has the 9th highest K:BB rate. It also helps that he has a quality 0.77 HR/9.
Ashcraft wasn’t known as a hard-throwing pitcher prior to 2023. According to FanGraphs’ write-up on him prior to the 2021 season, the last year he threw a pitch, he was sitting 91-94 MPH. However, Ashcraft, in his most recent start for Atloona, was sitting 96-97 MPH and topped out at 98. He pairs that now plus fastball with an average curveball and slider. He does throw a change-up, but it’s a rarely used offering for him.
What role Ashcraft plays long-term for the Pirates is up for debate. The Pirates have yet to give him an extended look, and none of his starts have lasted more than four innings. He could be a reliever; he could be a starting pitcher. Regardless of what role the Pirates put Ashcraft in for the long haul, he should be a fun prospect to watch. His return has been an extremely welcoming surprise and could add yet another quality pitcher to the major league depth chart down the stretch.