Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Two Unrated Pitchers Off to Strong Starts This Season

Minnesota's J.P. Massey (40) looks to the dugout during a NCAA Big Ten Conference baseball game
Minnesota's J.P. Massey (40) looks to the dugout during a NCAA Big Ten Conference baseball game / Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via

These two Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospects might not be on any prospect lists, but they're posting strong numbers in the minor leagues

Going into the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates certainly had a lot of interesting pitching talent. While most of that was in the low-minors, such as Thomas Harrington, Bubba Chandler, Anthony Solometo, or at short-season ball like Michael Kennedy or Jun-Seok Shim, there’s certainly some talent coming up through the lower levels of the minor leagues. However, the Pirates have two unranked minor leaguers below Double-A who have been dominating their respective levels.

The first of the two, and the most notable, is Braxton Ashcraft. Ashcraft appeared on top Pirate prospect lists a couple of years ago, as he was the team’s 2nd round pick in 2018. However, Ashcraft fell off prospect ranking lists over the last few years.

Between 2020 and 2022, the former second rounder only tossed 38.2 innings as he did not pitch competitively in 2020 because of COVID wiping out the minor league season, and pitched very little in 2021 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Recovering from surgery also knocked him out for the 2022 season.

However, Ashcraft is now on pace to having one of the best comeback seasons in the minor leagues. Across 28.1 innings, Ashcraft has a 2.51 ERA, 3.16 FIP, and 1.08 WHIP. The former second rounder has one of the best K:BB ratio at 9.0. Ashcraft has a 31% strikeout rate and 3.4% walk rate. On top of that, he has a solid 0.94 HR/9 rate. However, all three of his home runs allowed came in two straight games. Plus he has a solid 43.2% ground ball rate.

The next pitcher is J.P. Massey. Massey didn’t garner much attention when the Pirates selected him in the 7th round of the 2022 draft. Massey posted unimpressive numbers for the University of Minnesota, owning an ERA of 6.52 and walking 13.5% of opponents in 59.1 innings. There was virtually no expectations for Massey heading into 2023, but he’s been flatout dominant at Bradenton.

Massey has a  2.84 ERA, 4.17 FIP, and 1.29 WHIP in 44.1 innings of work. That also comes with a quality 28.1% strikeout rate and 0.81 HR/9. Walks haven’t been a strong suit for Massey, however, with a 10.8% BB%. However, one thing to keep in mind is that most of Massey’s struggles came out of the bullpen. While he has just two appearances and 4.2 innings pitched as a reliever, six of the 14 earned runs he’s allowed came as an RP. As a starting pitcher, he has a microscopic 1.82 ERA, along with a 29.7% strikeout rate, 10.3% walk rate, and 0.45 HR/9 rate.

Neither Ashcraft nor Massey are considered top 30 prospects in the Pirate system. Most likely don’t even put them in the Pirate top 50. It’s always a welcoming surprise when a  prospect with little expectations does so well. Hopefully both can continue to perform well as the season goes on and as they get moved up the minor league ladder. 

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