Bubba Chandler’s two-way ability leaves some questions as to how the Pittsburgh Pirates will develop and utilize the talented prospect as he develops.
The Pittsburgh Pirates pulled off an absolute heist in the 2021 draft. Because they went under slot with the first overall pick with Henry Davis, they were able to save on over-slot selections later in the draft. In the third round, they had the opportunity to select Bubba Chandler.
Chandler isn’t your typical third-rounder. He was projected to go in the first 15-20 picks but went to the Pirates at the 72nd overall because of his commitment to Clemson football. Chandler signed for a massive over-slot bonus of $3 million when his slot value was less than $900,000.
Chandler was highly touted for his two-way ability at North Oconee High School. He’s a right-handed pitcher who possesses four offerings, all of which play at an average or better level and have distinct speeds, and a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s before he turns 20-years-old. He’s also a shortstop who provides power from both sides of the plate, as well as a great glove up the middle and plus speed.
However, the question is, how will the Pirates develop Chandler? It will be a question that will face any team that drafts two-way prospects. The only true two-way player in the majors is Shohei Ohtani, but there’s yet to be a player who was drafted as a position player and pitcher and developed that way. The only exception is Tampa Bay Rays’ southpaw Brendan McKay, but he has since given up on hitting and playing first base.
The Pirates have only had Chandler play shortstop in his brief minor league career. Granted, that’s only 11 games, but he hasn’t pitched professionally so far. That doesn’t necessarily mean the organization is having him focus on just playing shortstop, though. He has taken reps both on the mound and in the batting cage throughout this offseason.
I believe the Pittsburgh Pirates will continue to develop him as a two-way player but put a greater emphasis on pitching. The Pirates will still let him get at-bats in, but I personally think he’ll end up as a better pitcher than a position player. However, they’ll still want that versatility out of him.
Chandler has the upside of a low-end #1 starter and a regular shortstop right now. There’s no reason, especially at his age, not to at least try and keep him as a two-way prospect. Now, if he ends up being a significantly better pitcher than batter, then it might end up being better, in the long run, to keep him as a pitcher only.
But it’s also worth noting that shortstop is one of the most physically demanding positions on the diamond. The Pittsburgh Pirates may end up having Chandler move around the diamond at third base, second base, and possibly the outfield in order to keep him fresher, especially if he pitches. McKay was drafted as a left-handed pitcher and first baseman. Ohtani pitches but bats DH when he is in the line-up and only has 8.1 innings played in the grass since arriving in the United States.
But having him see time at multiple positions may end up being beneficial for Chandler. He doesn’t have the bat or offensive ceiling to DH regularly, unlike Ohtani. Much of his value as a position player comes from the fact he’s highly athletic with a plus glove at shortstop and enough power potential to blast 15-20 home runs. By having him play the infield and outfield, the Pirates could have him make regular starts on the mound as well as getting some plate appearances during the week.
Another positive of having him move around positions is that he doesn’t have to play shortstop when he does play the field. This may end up keeping him fresh and able to pitch more innings without having to worry about fatigue from both pitching and playing such a physically demanding position. It also gives the Pittsburgh Pirates more options on how to utilize Chandler.
In the end, I think the Pittsburgh Pirates will find precisely how to utilize Chandler. He’s exceptionally talented and highly athletic. It’s not every draft you get a guy who can potentially play the infield and pitch on the regular. The Pirates made out like bandits in the 2021 draft, and Chandler was just one of the high-end players they essentially stole in the draft.