The future of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rotation

The Pittsburgh Pirates' rotation has a very bright future ahead of them.
Mar 3, 2024; North Port, Florida, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Paul Skenes (30) throws a pitch in
Mar 3, 2024; North Port, Florida, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Paul Skenes (30) throws a pitch in / Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
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The Pirates have a near overload of pitching talent in the organization.

Barco will likely soon get the bump from Greensboro to Altoona. It's quite possible that if Barco pitched a full season in 2023, he would have opened the year at Double-A instead. He missed the first half of the year due to Tommy John surgery that halted his final college season at the University of Florida in '22. He was then slowly eased back into action.

A potential X-factor that many forget about is Mike Burrows. Burrows could be a massive contributor in the second half of the year, assuming there are no setbacks in his Tommy John rehab. The right-hander was a borderline top-100 prospect at the start of last year. He was projected to eventually get a shot at a Major League rotation spot but underwent the dreaded elbow surgery in mid-April. Burrows last pitched in 2022 when he owned a 4.01 ERA but a 3.29 FIP and 1.21 WHIP with a 28.2% K%, 7.9% BB%, and 0.76 HR/9. Burrows also had just a 3.46 ERA prior to his final start of the season.

Burrows threw around 94-95 MPH but with a ton of spin. His curveball also approached 3000 RPM. Early in his career, there was debate whether or not he could stick as a starting pitcher long term. That was mainly because his change-up looked like a distant third pitch. But over the course of 2021-2022, he sharpened it up to the point where it became an above-average pitch. 

Braxton Ashcraft is one last guy worth mentioning. After missing nearly three seasons from 2020 through 2022, he came back strong in 2023, working to a 2.39 ERA, 2.85 FIP, and 1.08 WHIP. He had a K% just a hair below 30% at 29.6%, with an even better 5.2% walk rate. Home runs were also a non-issue, with a 0.69 HR/9. Ashcraft was sitting in the mid-to-upper-90s with an above-average slider. He'll also mix in a curveball and change-up. But there are questions about whether or not he ends up as a starter or reliever long-term. 

The Pirates were, understandably, cautious with Ashcraft last year. Even though he made 19 starts, he never surpassed four innings in any game. Although he did put together a strong outing in his most recent start, he hasn't looked as sharp through the early stages of 2024. The worst-case scenario is that they pull a Kyle Nicolas, bump Ashcraft to the bullpen, and let him throw gas for one or two innings at a time.