Braxton Ashcraft could take a similar route as Carmen Mlodzinski did. While he was primarily a starting pitcher for most of his minor league career, Ashcraft could move to the bullpen this upcoming season. If he does, look for Ashcraft to take his talents to the next level in 2024.
Ashcraft pitched 52.2 innings last season in Bradenton through Altoona, working to a 2.39 ERA, 2.85 FIP, and 1.08 WHIP. He struck out 29.6% of batters faced with a walk rate of just 5.2% and a HR/9 of 0.68. The right-hander was one of the best pitchers in minor league baseball. Among pitchers with at least 12 games started, he had the 9th best ERA, 5th best FIP, 7th best K:BB ratio, 20th lowest walk rate, and 16th best xFIP.
After barely pitching in any of the last three seasons, Ashcraft returned, throwing in the mid-to-upper-90s with his fastball. The right-hander also throws a curveball and slider and the occasional changeup. Like many players taken by Neal Huntington, Ashcraft has shown a ton of athleticism on the mound, which has helped his command develop well. While he throws hard, he doesn’t need a high-effort delivery to crank the velocity up.
Even though Ashcraft made 19 starts, none of his outings lasted more than four innings. Sure, while I’d love to see Ashcraft be a starting pitcher, he hasn't been asked to take on a starting pitcher workload since 2021, and that was before Tommy John surgery. The velocity gains in shorter outings may not hold if he is asked to go 5-7 innings at a time.
Right now, the safe bet is Ashcraft ending up in the bullpen, however, his stuff would definitely play as a reliever. Ashcraft was added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. Because of that, the fact he’s going into his age-24 campaign, he may move to the bullpen, and of how well he did in 2023, I could see the Pirates fast-tracking him to their pen.