Among the 18 players the Reds invited to their early minor league spring training this year was 23-year-old righthander Graham Ashcraft.
The 2019 sixth-round pick out of Alabama-Birmingham has pitched just 53.2 innings in his professional career, and all of those came with Rookie-level Greeneville in his draft year.
With the 2020 minor league season canceled, Ashcraft spent time working on a new pitch to add to his two-seam fastball, slider and changeup.
“He’s really working on his curveball,” Reds director of pitching Kyle Boddy said. “He didn’t throw one at all in Greeneville, and he didn’t throw one in college, either. It’s turned out to be a really good pitch. “
Along with a new breaking ball in his repertoire, Ashcraft has also been picking up velocity on his fastball. The combination of his velocity and stuff is one of the reasons the organization invited him to the early minor league camp.
“We asked what’s best for our hitters as we play a bunch of B-games? And we can have someone with top-end big league stuff—(Ashcraft is) sitting 97 (mph) and touching 100 every outing, and his secondaries are really good,” Boddy said.
“That just really helps our hitters so they can see stuff, but also you can develop him along the way, too. “
In college Ashcraft split time as both a starter and reliever while pitching for Mississippi State and Alabama-Birmingham. His stuff could allow him to move quickly as a reliever, but that’s not the Reds’ plan for now.
“I think we could move him really fast as a reliever,” Boddy said. “You also want to stretch a guy like that out as long as possible. We’d like to give him as many turns in the rotation as possible and go from there. “
Injuries in college, along with his split role, limited Ashcraft to just 80 innings before he was drafted. At times he struggled to consistently find the strike zone. Improving that consistency may be what determines the role he eventually winds up in.
— Righthander Tejay Antone spent time in the offseason improving his fastball and his slider with the hopes that he can win a rotation spot this spring.