'Uncharted territory': How two-way Chandler is trying to do it all

March 13th, 2022

BRADENTON, Fl. — In an alternate reality,  is living the life of a normal college student. At least, as normal as life allows for a Clemson quarterback. 

His days would be filled with classes and practices. His falls would be dedicated to the gridiron, his springs to the diamond. In a couple years’ time, maybe two leagues would be calling his name. 

That is the timeline Chandler left behind. Instead, Chandler is embarking on a two-way journey that has no precedent in this organization. Teammates laud his ambition. Coaches mastermind the details. In this reality, he’s trying to bend reality. 

“I don’t know how he’s doing it,” said , the Pirates’ No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline. “It’s a lot to balance, but he’s doing a great job of handling it very maturely and professionally.”  

With respect to Solometo, Henry Davis,  and other top prospects, Chandler, the Pirates’ No. 8 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is the most intriguing prospect in this system. Point. Blank. Period. He’s trying to switch-hit. He’s trying to play shortstop. He’s trying to pitch. Chandler is, essentially, trying to do it all. 

“I wish there was more hours in the day,” said Jonny Tucker, the Pirates’ Minor League hitting coordinator. “Very, very difficult task, but it’s just a testament to how athletic he is, where he’s been before he’s gotten here. We just have to be patient and understand that he’s being pulled in a lot of different directions.” 

Tucker’s assessment of “very difficult” almost undersells what Chandler is attempting to accomplish. There’s a reason  is the only two-way mainstay in the last century. It’s physically demanding. It’s mentally draining. Many über-talented ballplayers who played both ways in high school or college typically opt for one or the other. 

Hunter Greene, who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high schooler, was lauded for his flamethrowing and slugging alike. , selected two picks after Greene, was praised for his pitching and power. , for a moment, looked like he had a real chance to stick as a two-way player, even if in a relief role. To this point, the three have just about abandoned the bat. The common thread among them is that pitching was the fallback option, an option that Chandler relishes possessing. 

“If I’m batting a buck-twenty, I can always fall back on the bump,” Chandler said. “It’s a good outlet.” 

Even Ohtani, for as transcendentally great as he was, seldom played the field, an arena Chandler wants to explore. Chandler’s ambition isn’t causing his coaches headaches, per se, but to John Baker, outlining Chandler’s future would easier if he didn’t look like a “Major League hitter.” 

“I don’t want to say he’s a thorn in my side, but he’s too good at hitting and playing shortstop for us to pigeonhole him into one spot," Baker, the Pirates’ director of coaching and player development, said. "I don’t know what the timeline is. It’s rather open-ended at this point."

A typical day for Chandler can be exhausting to just observe. When he’s a shortstop — Chandler has a vibrant red glove that his teammates poke fun at — his days might feature field work and batting practice. When he’s a pitcher, live bullpens against the farm system’s best hitters might be the center of his attention.

“When it’s days for him to throw, I give him a hard time. I say, ‘I don’t like you on days that you’re pitching,’” Tucker said. “[When] I say, ‘What are you doing today?’ and he goes, ‘Hey, I'm a hitter today,’ I go, ‘You my man today.’”

On occasion, Chandler will get back to his room and proclaim to Solometo that he’s giving up one or the other, depending on the day. Chandler, of course, is joking. For now. With the track record of others in mind, there’s a very real possibility that Chandler will have to pick one or the other. As Chandler plainly admitted, "Baseball is stupidly hard." With his first professional season several weeks away, though, the vision is filled with vitality.

“I can't imagine the people who can actually do that at a very high level,” said Nick Gonzales, the Pirates' No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline. “He's a hard worker and I love that guy. He's a great kid. I'm excited for his future.”

Given that most two-way aspirers fall back on the bump, Chandler's performance at the plate this year will likely largely determine his road map. If he’s overwhelmed, a transition to full-time pitcher would likely follow. Should he show promise, the Pirates will be more inclined to let the experiment ride. Only time will tell how this unfolds, if Chandler can continue to reshape what's possible in this reality.

“We’re just going to let him play and see if he can handle it,” Tucker said. “This is uncharted territory for all of us here. This is a cool little case study.”