Could Bubba Chandler follow a similar path to Jared Jones?

Could one of the Pittsburgh Pirates' top pitching prospects, Bubba Chandler, follow a similar path to the big leagues as Jared Jones and open the 2025 season on the team's Major League roster?
Feb 20, 2024; Bradenton, FL, USA;  Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Bubba Chandler (57) poses for a photo
Feb 20, 2024; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Bubba Chandler (57) poses for a photo / Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in the 2000s, the Pittsburgh Pirates started the year with a rookie on their Opening Day roster with no MLB experience. That rookie is Jared Jones, a second-round pick by the Pirates out of high school in 2020. But could the Pirates replicate something similar next year with fellow young prospect Bubba Chandler?

Like Jones, Chandler was an early-round high school draft pick. The right-hander was taken in the third round of the 2021 draft but was ranked as one of the best prospects available at the time. In order to pry Chandler away from his commitment to Clemson as a football player, the Pirates had to offer up a sizable over-slot signing bonus of $3 million, $800K more than what they offered Jones the year prior.

2023 was the first full season of Chandler’s career, both in terms of playing time and as a pitcher. The Pirates originally drafted Chandler as a two-way RHP/SS/DH but dropped his two-way prowess last year. The first half of the season did not treat Chandler great. His first 62.1 innings yielded a 6.79 ERA, 5.51 FIP, and 1.93 WHIP. The only positive was that he was striking out just over a quarter of the batters he faced with a 25.4% K%. However, he allowed a ton of walks with a 12.5% BB% while giving up home runs at a below-average 1.44 HR/9 rate. A .421 batting average on balls in play did Chandler no favors, but it was still a poor showing overall.

But Chandler got his act together in the second half of the year. His final 48.1 innings of 2023 saw him work to a minuscule 1.66 ERA, 3.85 FIP, and 0.82 WHIP. Chandler cut his walk rate down significantly to just 7.2%, while his K% took a step in the right direction at 28.2%. Home runs were also much less of an issue, as his HR/9 dropped to 0.92. Chandler capped off his season with a promotion to Altoona and the end of the year, where he reeled off five near-perfect innings, striking out eight batters and only allowing one hit. This was against a lineup that housed both Dylan Crews, James Wood, and Trey Lipscomb, who is now in the Major Leagues.

Chandler throws in the mid-upper 90s. During his Spring Breakout appearance, his four-seamer averaged 97.3 MPH. He also throws an above-average slider, change-up, and decent curveball. According to Baseball America, Chandler significantly improved his location with his off-speed pitches. There’s always been a chance Chandler develops above-average command because of his athleticism. Keep in mind, he was a shortstop for a brief period at the start of his pro career and projected as an above-average defender up the middle. Chandler started to refine that athleticism to the mound during the second half of last season.

2024 will be Chandler’s age-21 season and he’ll open the year at Double-A Altoona. That is the same age that Jones opened up the 2023 season for the Curve. Jones also had some issues with command early in his career before improving, like Chandler did last year. They’re both hard-throwing right-handers who have developed good off-speed and breaking offerings.

If the Pirates didn’t give Jones an Opening Day roster spot, I’d be much more hesitant to say that Chandler will open the year on the Pirates’ 2025 Opening Day roster.

But they’ve set somewhat of a precedent. I think you can’t rule out the possibility that if Chandler pitches well and makes strides forward like Jones did last year, as well as continues to show those improvements in Spring, and the Pirates have an open roster spot, Chandler could definitely find himself taking a similar path to Jones and making the team’s Opening Day roster next season.