BRADENTON, Fla. -- Bubba Chandler will have one job in 2023, and he could become an even more prominent talent as a result.
The Pirates prospect will transition from being a two-way player to becoming a full-time pitcher for the 2023 season, he told MLB Pipeline from Pittsburgh’s Minor League complex. He was alerted to the move Monday as he begins his second Spring Training in Bradenton.
“I really just want to focus on pitching this year, and I think I think I'd be a pretty good pitcher,” said Chandler, who added that a return to batting in 2024 or beyond isn’t out of the question. “I'm a pretty good hitter. But I see it everywhere, and I hear a lot that my ceiling is probably higher as a pitcher, which I personally think probably that is true."
The 20-year-old right-hander was selected in the third round in 2021 by the Pirates, who coaxed him out of playing both baseball and football at Clemson with a $3 million bonus and a belief that he could both pitch and hit to begin his pro career. Chandler quickly showed more promise on the bump, averaging mid-90s with his fastball (touching 99) while flashing two potential above-average breaking pitches during last year’s first full season in the Florida Complex League and at Single-A Bradenton. While he showed promising exit velocities as a switch-hitting DH, he looked like a rawer product at the plate and one who would need a longer runway to the Majors.
The numbers certainly bore that out. Chandler finished with a 2.61 ERA and 1.23 WHIP while fanning 34.7 percent of his batters faced over 41 1/3 innings in his first full season. Comparatively, he produced just a .196/.331/.382 line with four homers and a 33.1 percent K rate of his own over 124 plate appearances.
Considering Chandler’s multi-sport and multi-positional past, the Pirates are eager to see how he can take off when he isn’t taking swings in between starts.
“We want him to have an opportunity to focus on one thing and really master a craft,” said director of player development John Baker. “In truth, we're at a position now where the team that he'd be competing to pitch for is different than the team that he would be competing to hit for. We reached that fork in the road. So we put it in front of him and let him take ownership of it. We're excited to see him pitch.”
The main point of emphasis early on will be landing the secondaries in the zone for strikes. Chandler could get swings-and-misses out of the zone with his breaking pitches and changeup, but more patient hitters knew not to chase the softer stuff, leading to 28 walks in his 14 appearances.
The right-hander already took to some of that work this offseason, saying he picked up fellow Bucs prospect Quinn Priester’s slider grip and some changeup pointers from Scott Elarton in his search for better command. With his bat kept at home, Chandler will be allowed more to hone in on those offerings – while continuing to improve his already stellar fastball velocity – in between starts.
Having one role may not only quicken Chandler’s route to Pittsburgh but also may give the Pirates an even better prospect upon his arrival.
“I was kinda bummed out yesterday for pretty much the whole day,” Chandler said, “but today, I woke up and said, ‘All right, I’ve got a bullpen, my first as a [pitcher only], so let’s attack it.’ I was trying to figure something out and did well in my bullpen, so I’m ready to see what I can do just focusing on the mound this year.”