Even going back to the Neal Huntington days, the Pirates have had a thing for multi-sport prep athletes when it comes to their early draft picks.
They of course took multiple players of this type in 2021. Quinn Priester played football and was the team’s first round pick in 2019. They have another pitcher in the system who will be returning to the mound come 2023.
Braxton Ashcraft had 37 touchdown receptions his junior year in high school, but gave up football to focus on pitching. It eventually landed him with the Pirates as the team’s second round pick in 2018.
The Texas native has the frame you dream of when it comes to pitchers, and there seemed to be a lot of promise on the mound when thinking about what could be with Ashcraft focusing on baseball.
Ashcraft didn’t get off to the best start to his professional career, making stops in the Gulf Coast League and New York Penn League in 2018 and 2019. In 70.2 Innings he posted a 5.47 ERA with a 16.5%, and 8.7% strikeout and walk rate, respectively.
After no 2020 season, Ashcraft got off to a great start to the 2021 campaign with the Greensboro Grasshoppers. He posted a 28.3% strikeout rate to go along with a 1.65 ERA in four starts during the month of May.
It was a tough stretch after that, with the righty posting an 8.06 ERA the rest of the way until being shut down and needing Tommy John surgery, putting him out the entire 2022 season.
Due to minimal time in Greensboro, there isn’t much video available on the righty in recent years, but you can still get a good idea at what he has to offer.
In High-A, Ashcraft mixed in a fastball and changeup to go along with a curveball and slider. The fastball got as high as 95 mph against Bowling Green, the only game with a radar gun available. He didn’t throw the changeup much, but was able to get a few swings and misses with it.
There is one sequence of note when it comes to the pair of pitches, as Ashcraft throws a 2-1 changeup that gets the hitter missing. He follows that up with a fastball in the same area on the corner that he gets for a called strike three.
The two intriguing pitches that Ashcraft throws are his slider and curveball, throwing both for strikes and as put out pitches. The first half of the video below is showing Ashcraft throwing his curveball, which he uses primarily against lefties.
He paired it well with his fastball, especially when he threw it high in the zone. You can see him starting the pitch up at the hitter’s elbows and having it break down back into the zone.
With the slider, Ashcraft throws it primarily away against righties, as something to go off the fastball. He did have some moments where he looked like he was overthrowing them, leading to some bad balls in the dirt.
The last video shows three notable at-bats from the 2021 season for Ashcraft. In the first two, he faces Michael Harris III, the recent Rookie of the Year award winner. He starts off with two curveballs, jumping ahead 0-2 before climbing the ladder with the fastball, eventually getting a pop out.
Facing Harris again in the third, he jumps out to another 0-2 count and instead of going with the high fastball again, breaks off a curveball away trying to catch the corner. He almost gets Harris chasing a curve in the dirt, but he’s able to barely foul it off before getting him to pop up again with a fastball high.
Against the last batter, Ashcraft uses a couple of pitches perfectly together, throwing a breaking ball and fastball inside to get to 1-1. Later he throws a changeup away for a swing and a miss before getting a called strike three on a fastball on the corner.
Ashcraft has lost a lot of time in his career, both due to injuries and the 2020 pandemic, which isn’t great for a player like him who was a little more on the raw side of things coming out of high school.
He got off to a great start before falling off a cliff, which made sense with him eventually needing surgery.
Ashcraft will be 23-years-old for the entire 2023 season, and while he will have some sort of pitch restriction coming back from surgery, he also has the repertoire that could have move a little quicker once he gets going.
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.