Bubba Chandler was originally drafted as a two-way player. The Pirates tried Chandler out at shortstop and designated hitter in 2021 and 2022, but his it was clear that his pitching ability was way out in front of his hitting ability. The Pirates opted to let him become a pitcher only in 2023, and the results were good.
But the ‘23 season did not start out well for Chandler. The right-hander owned a 6.79 ERA, 5.51 FIP, and 1.93 WHIP up through the All-Star break. While Chandler did have a quality 25.4% strikeout rate, he had a horrible 1.44 HR/9 and a 12.5% walk rate. Some bad luck did play a hand in his struggles, as he had a .421 batting average on balls in play, but it still doesn’t excuse his poor HR/9 or BB%.
But Chandler was lights out in the second half of the year. Chandler owned a microscopic 1.66 ERA and 0.82 WHIP, with a respectable 3.85 FIP after the break. Chandler upped his strikeout to 28.2%, but more impressive was that he cut his walk rate to just 7.2%, while his HR/9 dropped to 0.92. Good luck was a factor, as he had a .200 batting average on balls in play, but luck or not, this was a massive improvement to his first half. Chandler ended the season at Altoona. He made just a single start but pitched five innings, allowed just one batter to reach base via a hit, did not walk anyone, and struck out eight.
Chandler has some heat, sitting in the mid-90s while topping out at 99 on the gun. Chandler’s fastball is a plus pitch, but both his curveball and slider are above-average offerings. His changeup has also gotten better, and it looks like it could be another plus offering. Command was something that Chandler struggled with in the first half of the year, but looked much better down the line. Chandler is extremely athletic and was considered one of the best shortstop prospects in the 2021 draft. He’ll have to use that athleticism on the mound to get his mechanics in check.
For a guy who focused on only pitching for the first time as a professional, Chandler did a commendable job. There were some bumps in the road, but nothing out of the ordinary for an extremely young pitcher making a large change in his regiment. Hopefully, Chandler can continue to build off the second half of his 2023 season. Chandler arguably has the highest ceiling among the pitchers we will talk about today, but he's a little less refined so far than the two names ranked ahead of him on today's list.