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Who’s Next? Top Three Pirates Prospects After Paul Skenes’ 2024 Graduation

More talent is on the way for Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Pirates are one of the most fascinating teams in Major League Baseball, thanks in large to an up-and-coming starting rotation spearheaded by Paul Skenes and Jared Jones.

But now that Skenes and Jones are firmly entrenched as major leaguers, both recently graduating from prospect status, it’s time to ask the question: Who’s next?

It’s hard to imagine anyone bursting onto the scene like Skenes, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft. The 22-year-old just earned a National League All-Star selection in his rookie season and already looks like a legitimate ace.

That said, the next wave of Pirates prospects could prove crucial in Pittsburgh’s evolution. While the Pirates might contend for a playoff spot this season, the arrival of more internal reinforcements ultimately could catapult Pittsburgh to new heights.

Here are the Pirates’ top three prospects at the midway point of 2024.

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Bubba Chandler, RHP
It’s crazy to think the Pirates have another high-upside starting pitcher working his way toward the big leagues, yet that’s the enviable position Pittsburgh finds itself in with Chandler turning heads at Double-A Altoona. Chandler, a third-round pick in 2021, entered the system as a two-way player but became a full-time pitcher going into 2023. So far, the results have been excellent.

Chandler, who turns 22 in September, is the Pirates’ No. 1 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Baseball America earlier this month ranked him the sport’s No. 51 prospect.

“Chandler possesses an easy plus fastball and an above-average changeup but has struggled to perfect either of his breaking ball shapes,” Baseball America wrote. “Many evaluators view Chandler as a future closer.”

While it’s possible Chandler eventually moves to the bullpen, where he could carve out a late-inning role, the Pirates presumably will continue to groom him as a starter. Aside from Skenes, Chandler arguably has a higher ceiling than any pitcher in the Pirates organization, with his obvious athleticism on full display now that he’s focusing entirely on pitching.

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Termarr Johnson, 2B
Johnson’s stock has dipped since the Pirates drafted him No. 4 overall in 2022 — one year after selecting Henry Davis No. 1 overall — but there’s still a lot to like about the 20-year-old infielder. He was considered the best high-school hitter in his draft class, with excellent plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills, and recent strides at High-A Greensboro suggest a star outcome remains very much on the table.

Johnson joined Chandler in being named to the All-Star Futures Game. He’ll also participate in the inaugural MLB Futures Skills Showcase, a testament to his intriguing potential, and we could see Johnson arrive in Pittsburgh as soon as 2025.

Braxton Ashcraft, RHP
There were a few candidates to round out this list, including right-hander Thomas Harrington and left-hander Anthony Solometo. But Ashcraft looks like the next man up for Pittsburgh, with Baseball America even ranking him No. 97 on its midseason list.

“The Pirates’ pitching development has been a success story this year, which has helped the team hover around .500 despite offensive struggles,” Baseball America wrote. “Ashcraft had improved his slider to go with a plus fastball.”

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It hasn’t exactly been a Skenes-like trajectory for Ashcraft, a second-round pick in 2018 who’s dealt with injuries (including Tommy John surgery) in his minor-league career. And there’s definite reliever risk, since we haven’t seen him handle a heavy workload to this point. But the 24-year-old throws strikes and has shown an ability to miss bats. Not a bad combo.

Featured image via Kim Klement Neitzel/USA TODAY Sports Images