BRADENTON, Fla. – When the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Bubba Chandler as a third rounder out of high school for a $3 million bonus, the deal came with a request.
Chandler was rated a mid-first rounder, and fell so low to the Pirates due to the leverage he had as a two-way athlete. He wanted to get a chance as a two-way player, so his agent told the Pirates he would sign if he had that opportunity.
“I came in thinking that I was going to have the opportunity, and they gave it to me gracefully,” said Chandler, who has been splitting his time this camp between shortstop, hitting, and pitching. “I feel like I’ve done my part, and what I needed to do to show that I can actually do that. It’s a long season, we’ll see how it goes.”
Chandler will be playing simultaneously as a pitcher and a position player, rather than doing one role half the season and the other role the second half. The biggest challenge will be settling into a routine that allows him to work on everything.
To get an idea of where he stands on either side of the game, let’s review the two versions of Bubba Chandler.
Bubba Chandler – The Pitcher
Chandler specified that the Pirates offered him the chance to take a break from hitting, fielding, or the weight room, but that he will be pitching daily. He also said that the bat and the glove are the biggest areas of weakness right now. So, if you’re banking on one position, pitcher would be the safest bet.
“It’s always good to see athleticism on the mound, and that’s what you get with Bubba,” said Pirates pitching coordinator Josh Hopper. “Obviously the reps are being closely watched, because he’s trying to do both. What you’re seeing on the mound right now is encouraging. The fastball is playing. The breaking ball is a touch behind, but that’s expected in February. But the thing that we like is he’s starting to understand how his body moves a little bit.”
Chandler has been working on his slider, which he said is improving during his bullpen sessions.
“Whenever I am in good rhythm and sync, the slider is there,” Chandler said. “When I’m not, it’s a cement mixer. Need to eliminate those. Whenever I do find the right rhythm, it’s a plus pitch.”
The focus right now is consistency.
“What we’re looking for is him to get consistent with all of his pitches, and once he does that, do you understand how you’re doing it so you can repeat it,” said Hopper.
Bubba Chandler – The Hitter
Chandler admits the hitting is difficult, but the Pirates believe his athleticism can give him a chance.
“I like Bubba,” said Pirates hitting coordinator Jonny Tucker. “Every time I see him on the mound I’m always yelling ‘Bubba, where’s the bat at?’ He’s an extreme athlete. He certainly has a hard path for himself. Switch-hitter. Shortstop. Starting pitcher. Doesn’t get much harder than that.”
Tucker was surprised at how far along Chandler is, despite his attention being divided between so many roles. He credited that as a testament to Chandler’s athleticism, and said that experience will help him understand what type of hitter he can become.
Chandler said that he’s terrible with his lower half at the plate, although he still has the power to hit one out.
— Tim Williams (@TimWilliamsP2) February 21, 2022
The time management is going to be his biggest challenge, according to Tucker, who isn’t close to ruling out Bubba Chandler – The Hitter.
“I’ll just tell you, I’m never going to put a limit on any man,” said Tucker. “Certainly, if we want to be successful in Pittsburgh, if we want a championship, a lot of guys in there are going to have to exceed everyone’s expectations. I’m leaving him a lot of runway to show us what he can do.”
Every two-way player now gets some kind of Shohei Ohtani comparison, and Tucker’s approach is to tell Chandler that if Ohtani can do it, why can’t Chandler? Tucker wants to keep that belief going for as long as possible.
“At this point, he can until he can’t,” said Tucker.
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Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.