Prior to Tuesday's deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 Draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates added two players to their 40-man roster
The Pittsburgh Pirates have made their first additions of the offseason to the 40-man roster. In order to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft, the Pirates have added right-handed pitcher Braxton Ashcraft and infielder Tsung-Che Cheng to the 40-man roster. This puts the Pirate 40-man roster at 39 players.
Protecting Ashcraft may have been the easiest decision for the Pirates to make when it came to the Rule 5 Draft and the 40-man roster. The 24-year-old righty was the 51st overall pick in the 2018 draft, and if not for injuries may already be in or on the doorstep of the majors.
Due to COVID cancelling the minor league season in 2020 and Tommy John surgery, outside of the 10 starts he made at High-A in 2021 Ashcraft did not pitch in a professional game from the end of 2019 until April of this past season.
This past season Ashcraft, while in a small sample size as he worked his way back from injury, put himself back on the map. Across three levels (Low-A, High-A, Double-A), Ashcraft pitched 52.2 innings in 19 starts. Ashcraft posted a 2.39 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 5.2% walk rate, and a 29.6% strikeout rate across these 52.2 innings of work.
As for Cheng, the left-handed hitter did not turn 22 until July. He started the 2023 season with High-A Greensboro where he hit for a .308/.406/.575 slash line with a 163 wRC+, 13.8% walk rate, and an 18.5% strikeout rate in 254 plate appearances. He also hit 9 home runs, while collecting 30 extra base hits, stealing 13 bases, and posting an isolated slugging (ISO) of .266.
Cheng was then promoted to Double-A Altoona where his numbers slumped in 281 PAs. With the Curve, he hit for a .251/.304/.352 slash line with an 80 wRC+, 6.0% walk rate, 18.9% strikeout rate, 13 steals, and a .101 ISO.
Even with his struggled at Altoona, Cheng still would have been an intriguing prospect for teams in the Rule 5 Draft. He can play third base, shortstop, and second base. While you would likely have to hide him as the 26th man on your roster for a season, the upside is there to be a very good MLB player down the road.