PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) – A Bucs second-round pick out of high school in 2018, Braxton Ashcraft has overcome a lot to be placed on the 40-man roster with an opportunity to continue to rise on a team in need of pitching.
The 24-year-old starter would have been exposed in the Rule 5 Draft had he not been added to the main roster Tuesday. He really saved his Pirates career, and maybe entire career, with what he did last season.
“At the point I’m at in my career, you’re either going on or trying to find a place where you can fulfill the dreams that you’ve had in terms of being a professional baseball player at the highest level,” Ashcraft said Wednesday. “I’m just thankful the Pirates gave me the opportunity to do that with them because I love everybody here.”
It hasn’t been easy, three surgeries in three seasons including Tommy John in 2021 after just 10 starts. It wiped out his entire 2022. It was a prove-it season with an innings limit and Ashcraft answered the challenge. He started at Low A and finished the season in AA, overall making 19 starts, 52.2 innings, 2.39 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 63 strikeouts and 11 walks.
The 6’5” right-hander had his best numbers at his last stop. In eight starts with AA Altoona, he gave up three earned runs in 20 innings with 23 strikeouts and five walks.
“The biggest thing for me last year is I wanted to be challenged,” Ashcraft said. “I wanted to be challenged by the organization, I wanted to be challenged by the players. I wanted to be challenged by my teammates. I think those eight starts in Altoona did that for me. It boosted my confidence tremendously.”
Now Ashcraft is on the roster with an opportunity to continue to grow.
“It means so much more because of what I went through,” Ashcraft said. “Not taking away from anyone else’s success and other peoples’ journeys. But going through the injuries and being a higher draft pick and underperforming at the start of my career … going through those injuries taught me a lot of humility. I have to attribute where I’m at right now to the people who were around me and helped me get through those things.”
“I came into pro ball from a real small town in Texas. I was a big fish in a real small pond. I came into professional baseball and got humbled real quick. Not even through injuries, but performance. Seeing how everybody is as good or better than me.”
“At 18 years old, that's a tough pill to swallow, and growing up, I never really had anything that took me out of sports. I never had any injuries, I never had any grade things that takes me out of sports, and then I have my first injury and it takes me out of the game. It's a real hard thing to deal with. A real hard thing to cope with, in all aspects. I think that's the biggest deal.”
Ashcraft said he’s a more mature pitcher now with pitch selection, pitch shape and pitch design. He’s learned how to go about his daily work. He knows what to work on and how to prepare to be on that mound every fifth day. He said he’s still a work in progress, but is way ahead of where he was when he was drafted.
Where that carries him, AAA, MLB, he’s not sure. Just excited for the challenge.
“I think they have a strong mind for challenging me now and allowing me to kind of extend myself,” Ashcraft said. “In my second year out, so the training wheels are a little further off now. I think that anything’s possible now more so than last year.”
“I just want to compete; it doesn’t matter where I’m at.”