Most Trainers have to capture their Pokémon to add them to their team. This often means engaging them in battle, damaging them to weaken them, and then throwing a Pokéball at them. Ash, on the other hand, is a different story.
In the first Season of Pokémon, Ash didn’t have to be that good of a battler to fill up his team. Where most trainers had to catch Pokémon in a hard-fought battle, Ash’s team was comprised mainly of Pokémon he was either given or befriended. Even the Pokémon he caught traditionally weren’t always that hard to get into the ball. To prove this, here’s a look at all the Pokémon Ash owned by the end of the Indigo League.
Ash’s total number of properly captured Pokémon is four. The number of Pokémon he was either given or befriended is three; since Ash never had a definitive sixth Pokémon in Season 1, this means that more than half of his team was comprised of Pokémon he never caught. The number of Pokémon he caught without damaging them in battle is 32; even if all of the Tauros only count for one capture, that still brings the total up to three. Therefore, of the 10 different species of Pokémon Ash caught in Season 1, only four of them showcased Ash’s battle prowess.
Ash’s first ever Pokémon was Pikachu. Like most Trainers, he was given this Electric Mouse Pokémon by Professor Oak so he could start his journey. Since this is how most Trainers start, he shouldn’t be faulted for not catching Pikachu. The first Pokémon he ever caught, Caterpie, was technically caught the normal way. Ash engaged the Worm Pokémon in battle, but before bothering to damage it, he simply threw his Pokéball at it and it went in. No actual battle was fought.
The nature of this kind of capture is debatable. On one hand, it is entirely possible to catch a Pokémon at full health with a Pokéball; it’s the entire premise of the Safari Zone, Pokémon GO, and the Pokémon: Let’s Go games. Even the core series games allow for this to happen. The problem, however, is that it’s a poor test of Ash’s battling skills. If the goal is to see how many Pokémon he caught by battling and damaging them, then this shouldn’t count for anything.
The same goes for any other Pokémon he caught in this manner. In Season 1, this would include his Krabby and the 30 Tauros he caught in the Safari Zone. Again, since the Safari Zone is predicated on capturing Pokémon without battling them, the Tauros shouldn’t be held against him.
A more solid point against Ash, however, is how he caught his Charmander and Squirtle. Rather than battling with them, he spent an episode with each of them, bonding with them and getting to know them. Once this was done, these two Pokémon were glad to jump into Ash’s Pokéball.
In fairness, Ash’s means of obtaining Charmander and Squirtle were arguably much more difficult than simply battling them. With Charmander, it was a whole ordeal where he had to help nurse it back to health and come to terms with the fact that its old Trainer abandoned it. In the case of Squirtle, he was racing against time to ensure the safety of his friends and his Pikachu; he also nearly got bombed by Team Rocket. While these aren’t examples of Ash’s battling skills, they are examples of the lengths he’ll go to become a Pokémon Master.
The only Pokémon Ash caught by battling them were Pidgeotto, Bulbasaur, Primeape, and Muk. He caught these Pokémon by engaging them in battle, damaging them, and throwing a Pokébal at them once they were properly weakened. These are the only Pokémon that Ash can say that he rightfully captured.