The Pittsburgh Pirates have reason to be excited for what the future holds in regard to the state of their pitching staff. Currently, 10 of the top 25 prospects for the Pirates are pitchers with five of those ten listed in the top 15.
While it is certainly a positive sign for the future of the Pirates pitching, only two of those pitchers are 22-years old or older with number two overall prospect Mitch Keller being 23-years old and 17th ranked prospect Travis McGregor being 22-years of age.
Number six ranked prospect Quinn Priester and 11th ranked Brennan Malone are both 19-years old. Number seven ranked prospect Tahnaj Thomas, 16th ranked Michael Burrows, and 25th ranked Noe Toribio are all 20-years of age. While 21st ranked Cody Bolton and 19th ranked Stephen Jennings are both 21-years old.
Another young pitching prospect that the Pirates have ranked in their top-25, who is under 22-years of age is the 21st ranked prospect Braxton Ashcraft, who is still only 20-years old and features a filthy arsenal of pitches.
Selected in the second round of the 2018 draft by the Pirates with the 51st overall selection out of Robinson High School in Robinson, Texas, Ashcraft is a pitching prospect with a great deal of potential.
Ashcraft is 6’5” and 195-pounds and currently features a mid-90’s fastball with heavy sinking action, a plus slider that he throws in the mid-70’s with tight spin and a hard break, a sweeping curveball with 10-4 break to it, and a serviceable changeup.
In addition to having a solid pitch selection, Ashcraft has excellent mechanics and his delivery is easily repeated. As a result, he should be less susceptible to arm injuries than some of his counterparts who have a more jerky and less fluid delivery.
A standout athlete in high school, Ashcraft has excellent athleticism and was a star football player at Robinson High School before abandoning football to focus solely on baseball. While at Robinson, Ashcraft would face some of the best high school baseball talents in the nation.
He had committed to play baseball at Baylor University, but when the Pirates selected him and offered him a contract of $1.825 million, which was over $400,000 above the draft slot, he decided to forgo his collegiate career to pursue a professional career in baseball.
The Pirates would assign Ashcraft to the Gulf Coast League after signing and he would start five games in 2018, pitching 17 2⁄3 innings and posting a 4.58 earned run average, a 1.19 WHIP, 12 strikeouts, five walks and a 6.11 K/9 rate.
In 2019, the team would assign him to the Low-A West Virginia Black Bears where he would make 11 starts on the season throwing 53 innings of baseball with a 5.77 earned run average, 1.34 WHIP, with 39 strikeouts, 22 walks, and a 6.62 K/9 rate.
While these numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, it would be prudent to remember that Ashcraft was young versus the average age of both leagues. Additionally, it can be expected that he will fill out his lanky 6’5” and 195-pound frame as he matures, which will likely boost the velocity on his pitches and give him better strikeout numbers than he is currently experiencing.
On a scale of 20 to 80 with 50 being average, the young right-handed pitcher has a 50 rating on his fastball, a 55 ranking on his slider, a 50 rating for his curveball, a 45 ranking on his changeup and a 50 rating on his command. As he adds size and develops and refines some of his pitches, expect some of these ratings to increase.
Currently, Ashcraft projects as a middle of the rotation pitcher. He is currently predicted to make it to the major league team sometime in 2023. If he can show some progress this season and add bulk to assist him with adding velocity to his pitches, Braxton Ashcraft is likely to ascend quickly up the prospect rankings.