There were a few pitchers this season in the Cincinnati Reds farm system who put together very good seasons, but none were better than that of Graham Ashcraft, who is getting my nod for 2021 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award.
The Cincinnati brass was high on Graham Ashcraft when the year began, inviting him to join their “early spring training” camp of minor leaguers who played alongside the big leaguers in February and March before the start of actual minor league spring training that began in April.
The Reds sent Graham Ashcraft to join the High-A Dayton Dragons when the minor league season began in May, and his first start didn’t quite go as well as one would imagine that he had hoped. He gave up two runs in 3.2 innings. Three starts later he had a disastrous start against Quad Cities where he allowed five runs in just 1.2 innings.
His next start also came against Quad Cities and it started a run of seven consecutive starts where he didn’t allow an earned run that spanned four starts with Dayton and then three more after a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga. In total he would throw 44 innings in a row without allowing an earned run, giving up just 17 hits, walk 13 batters, and he struck out 52 of the 157 batters he faced in that span. But in that 45th inning things went south in a hurry as he allowed seven runs and 8 baserunners against Pensacola without recording an out.
While he didn’t quite reach the highs of that streak again during the season, Graham Ashcraft was still very good the rest of the season. He would make 10 starts after that and posted a 3.51 ERA for the Lookouts in that stretch. Overall he would throw 111.0 innings between Dayton and Chattanooga, allow just 86 hits – 4 of which were home runs – walk just 37 batters, and he struck out 129. His 3.00 ERA led all qualified starters in the organization, and his 1.11 WHIP was second.
Opposing batters managed to hit just .212/.288/.271 against Graham Ashcraft this season with 10 doubles, a triple, and 4 home runs in 454 plate appearances. One of the big reasons he was so successful in limiting extra-base hits is that when guys did make contact against him they put the ball on the ground 59% of the time. Among pitchers who threw at least 100 innings in all of the minor leagues this past season, his 59% ground ball rate was the 3rd best (and led the Reds system among pitchers with at least 70 innings).