What other Pittsburgh Pirates prospects could debut in 2024?

Who are some other debuts we could potentially anticipate during the Pittsburgh Pirates' 2024 season?
Baltimore Orioles v Pittsburgh Pirates
Baltimore Orioles v Pittsburgh Pirates / Christopher Pasatieri/GettyImages

2024 has brought some of the most anticipated debuts in recent Pittsburgh Pirates history. Jared Jones’ first start of the season was a big one, but Paul Skenes’ debut was electric and maybe the most hyped MLB debut ever. They’re now front-lining what looks to be one of the best rotations in baseball, and at least in the National League. But we’re still not even close to the halfway point of the year. What other notable debuts could we potentially anticipate?

Right now, it feels like there are two obvious ones. The first is Braxton Ashcraft. Ashcraft returned in 2023 after barely playing at all from 2020 through 2022, pitching to an excellent 2.39 ERA, 2.85 FIP, and 1.08 WHIP in 52.2 innings. There were questions as to how he would handle a full-time starting workload. The Pirates were understandably cautious with Ashcraft after multiple injuries that spanned across three seasons.

Ashcraft has made eight appearances on the year. His first four were a bit bumpy, but that’s to somewhat be expected if he’s being asked to pitch longer outings. But his last four starts have resulted in a quality 2.14 ERA, 1.42 FIP, and 1.00 WHIP in 21 innings. During that time, he has only walked a trio of batters while striking out 24. None of the hits he has given up were home runs. He’s still maintained his bump in velocity from last year, which is a major revelation. Ashcraft is still sitting mid-90s with his four-seamer despite seeing an increase in workload. 

Which Pittsburgh Pirates prospects could debut in the summer of 2024?

The Pirates put Ashcraft on the 40-man roster this past offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He’s already 24, and if he keeps pitching like he has for the last few weeks, especially if he does so as he continues to rebuild his workload, he’ll definitely get a promotion to the majors sometime later this year. 

The other is Mike Burrows. Burrows could have potentially played a significant role in 2023 with the Pirates. Unfortunately, his season was halted in April by Tommy John surgery. The last time we saw Burrows pitch over an extended period was in 2022, when he owned a quality 4.01 ERA, 3.29 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP throughout 94.1 innings between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis. Burrows fell just short of a 30% strikeout rate at 28.2%, and he paired that with an excellent 7.9% walk rate and a 0.76 HR/9. Burrows’ numbers were a lot better before his final game of the year, where he allowed six earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning. Prior to that game, he had a 3.46 ERA, 3.11 FIP, and 1.15 WHIP.

Burrows is a spin rate darling. He typically was hitting 93-96 MPH with a ton of spin with his fastball prior to last year's injury. His curveball could top out at 3,000 RPM. His changeup has made massive strides over the last few years. There were concerns regarding whether he could remain as a starter long-term because, while his fastball and curveball were great pitches, his off-speed stuff was not. But now, his changeup looks like an above-average third offering.

The Pirates had a lot of holes in their rotation last year, especially in the second half. He probably would have gotten a chance to grab a rotation spot last year had it not been for the surgery. But he’s on track to return sometime in the second half of this year. He could give the Pirates’ pitching staff a massive boost down the stretch. Like Ashcraft, the Pirates added Burrows to their 40-man roster, but all the way back in the 2022-2023 offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.

There are some other prospects like Bubba Chandler, Anthony Solometo, and Thomas Harrington, who might make their debuts late into the year if they heat up and are healthy. But right now, Ashcraft and Burrows seem like the most prime candidates. They’re both on the 40-man roster, which is one major reason why. Another reason is that they’ve both pitched well in the upper minor leagues. Both could greatly help the rotation or bullpen during this summer and down the home stretch of the season.