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First Pitch: Pittsburgh Pirates Top Prospect Rankings

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Yesterday was a big day for prospect rankings. Baseball America released their top 100 prospect update, with two Pirates prospects on the list. Meanwhile, here at Pirates Prospects, I released my updated top 50 system rankings.

Baseball America had RHP Bubba Chandler ranked as the 51st best prospect in the game, with RHP Braxton Ashcraft entering the list at 97th overall. The Pirates previously had the top overall prospect in Paul Skenes, and prior to that they had Jared Jones as one of the top pitching prospects in the game. With those two graduating, the top of the system has taken a hit. Termarr Johnson also dropped off the list, which I’ll talk about below.

Chandler Ranks 51st

My prediction is that Chandler will move up from this ranking by the end of the season. He’s been on fire over his last month, with better control, and better command of his slider. Baseball America notes that he has a below-average control grade, and consistency issues with his secondary pitches. His slider and changeup were both developed/refined in the last year, so he’s likely still getting used to each pitch.

Chandler has a 2.19 ERA in 37 innings since May 29th, with a 45:4 K/BB ratio. He has an 0.84 ERA in 21.1 innings over his last three starts, with a 28:2 K/BB ratio.

BA said that evaluators view Chandler as a future closer. I think that’s a likely floor he could achieve with his 97-98 MPH fastball and sharp tilt slider. His upside is higher than that, with only Skenes having more upside in this organization in my view.

If Chandler continues improving the control, and the command of his new secondary pitches, I think he’ll move well into the top half of the top 100 by the end of the year.

Ashcraft Ranks 97th

Braxton Ashcraft is having a great season, though he’s currently out with an injury that is hopefully minor. Ashcraft has an upper-90s fastball, paired with a plus slider and an above-average curveball, which gives him one of the best pitch mixes in the upper levels of the Pirates system. Ashcraft also has plus control, and is developing a changeup this year.

The Pirates have already promoted Ashcraft to Triple-A, where he’s got an 0.59 ERA in 15.1 innings across his first three starts. His strikeout rate dipped in those outings, compared to the 10+ K/9 he posted across two seasons in Double-A. He went on the injured list after his third start, so he hasn’t had a chance to improve on the results.

If Ashcraft returns this year, he would be an option for the MLB pitching staff. The Pirates might want to consider him as a reliever for now. His long-term value is a starter, but he’s already set a career-high with 69 innings pitched this year, with his previous high in the 52-53 inning range.

Ashcraft can help in the majors this year as a reliever with his remaining 30-50 innings of work, by my estimates. If he remains a starter, he would need to be shut down at some point. He could return as a starter in 2025, making the MLB rotation at some point during the season.

Termarr Held Back?

Termarr Johnson didn’t make the top 100 list, and has dropped in a lot of rankings. The 2022 fourth overall pick is hitting .232/.386/.363 this year for Greensboro, with seven homers and 14 stolen bases.

JJ Cooper, BA’s Editor in Chief, explained the decision to leave Johnson off the top 100 list, saying that he hasn’t talked to any scouts who would make a case for Johnson to be a top 100 prospect right now. He also noted that some of the same people he talked with loved Termarr when he was an amateur.

My theory is that the Pirates are holding Termarr Johnson back with his assignment. I wrote about this on Twitter, and will expand the thought process in a column on the site. The fact that scouts loved Johnson as an amateur, and have downgraded him in the Pirates’ system indicates that the hitting development in this system is potentially detrimental to growth.

Johnson was the number two prospect in the system in my updated rankings, so I’d have him above Ashcraft. However, I can see an argument for only Chandler making the top 100, with Johnson, Ashcraft, and Thomas Harrington as candidates for the final spots on the list.

Pirates Prospects Daily

I released version 3.0 of my top 50 Pittsburgh Pirates tiered rankings yesterday, with Bubba Chandler as the top prospect in the system. Check out the top ten, with Patreon supporters getting access to the full top 50.

2024 Pittsburgh Pirates Top 50 Tiered Rankings Version 3.0

Chandler had a big night in Altoona, throwing 7.2 shutout innings, continuing the pace he’s been on for the last month-plus. Read more about Chandler and all of Wednesday’s action in the latest Pirates Prospect Watch.

Pirates Prospect Watch: Bubba Chandler Does it Again

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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