Number Six - Starting Pitcher Bubba Chandler
Bubba Chandler is one of the many high school talents the Pirates took during the 2021 draft. The Pirates originally took Bubba as a two-way player. It took a lot of money to pry him away from his Clemson football commitment. The Pirates and Chandler agreed to a $3 million signing bonus, the second most a third-round pitcher had ever been given, and tied with a few others for the second most any 3rd rounder has signed for. Had it not been for the amount of money and his commitment, there was a very good chance he would have gone in the second half of the first round.
Chandler’s first season focusing solely on pitching has had its ups and downs. In 101 innings, Chandler owns a 4.90 ERA, 4.98 FIP, and 1.51 WHIP. While Chandler is striking out over a quarter of opponents with a 25.8% K-rate, he also has a poor 10.9% walk rate, and unimpressive 1.25 HR/9. Granted, there have been a handful of positives for Chandler, outside of just his quality strikeout rate.
Chandler has done a lot better as of recently. He has a 3.49 ERA, 6.9% walk rate, and 26.4% strikeout rate over his last 59.1 innings (since June 13th). Home runs have still been giving him some trouble with a 1.37 HR/9. Chandler has also gotten unlucky a few times. His .345 BAbip on the year isn’t great. But over this hot stretch, he has a much more manageable .316 BABIP. Chandler is inducing ground balls at a 45.3% rate and has a sub-20% line-drive rate, so I’d expect his numbers to improve going forward.
As stated earlier, Chandler was originally drafted as a two-way player, and this is his first season just pitching. The Pirates tried Chandler as a shortstop and DH for the first two years of his pro career. While he hit five home runs and had a .329 OBP in 161 plate appearances, he also struck out in 35.4% of his plate appearances and batted just .189. Pitching was clearly the thing he was better at, even in high school, so the Pirates have had him focus just on that.
Chandler certainly has the stuff to be a future quality starting pitcher. The right-hander sits mid-90s with his fastball and has a distinct slider and curveball. His fastball projects as a plus pitch, while his curveball and slider are both above average offerings. His fourth offering is a changeup, which he has a feel for and is an average pitch.
Drafted as a shortstop/RHP, Chandler has much more athleticism than the average pitching prospect. He might be the most athletic pitcher in the system. That should help him get his delivery/wind-up and command under wraps as he continues to focus just on pitching. Chandler has a bit of a long arm delivery, which could be negatively affecting his command. But while he might not become Greg Maddux 2.0, but he should be good enough to achieve average command/control. Keep in mind that he has a walk rate well below 10% now for over three months now.
Chandler is also a young pitcher and will turn 21 in mid-September. Given his quality numbers since June 13th, he should start the year at Altoona. That gives the Pirates yet another higher end pitching prospect in the upper minor leagues, and another talented arm that could debut sometime during the season.