Top prospect gets the call to Futures Game (2024)

July 6th, 2024

Top prospect gets the call to Futures Game (1)

Alex Stumpf

@AlexJStumpf

This story was excerpted from Alex Stumpf’s Pirates Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

PITTSBURGH -- For a moment, Bubba Chandler thought he just got traded.

The Pirates’ No. 1 prospect and MLB Pipeline's No. 51 overall prospect was hanging out with some teammates when director of coaching and player development John Baker sent Chandler a text saying he needed to talk to him. One of Chandler’s teammates saw that text and told him he received a very similar text from his farm director before he got traded.

Chandler called, and not only was he not being traded, it was good news. He was going to the All-Star Futures Game.

It’s hard to argue that Chandler hasn’t earned it, posting a 3.65 ERA with 75 strikeouts and a 1.04 WHIP over 61 2/3 innings. That barely touches on how effective he’s been since the calendar turned to June, pitching to a 1.91 ERA over 33 innings with 42 strikeouts and three walks.

“That’s a testament of throwing my pitches in-zone, and saying, ‘If you hit it, you hit it; if you don’t, you don’t,’” Chandler said. “I think that’s been the mindset.”

That wasn’t always the case for Chandler this season. He has some quality breaking and offspeed pitches, but tried to use them mostly for chases early in the season. Hitters started to recognize the pitches and tried to lay off any time they saw spin, knowing they could just be patient and strike against a fastball later, ideally while ahead in the count.

So even though Chandler was getting an extra inch and a half, two inches of vertical movement on his fastball (now getting about 20 inches), it wasn’t playing like it should have been.

So lately, he’s learned to stop being so shy about going in zone with those pitches. During Spring Training this March, he and Major League pitching coach Oscar Marin had a discussion when they watched Paul Skenes fall behind and throw a changeup in a prime hitter’s count. It worked for Skenes. Marin told Chandler that if he wanted to pitch in the big leagues, he’d better get used to doing things like that.

“It’s something that’s stuck with me,” Chandler said. “If I get behind 2-0, depending on the guy, it’s like, ‘Let’s throw a slider here. Let’s throw a changeup.’ They’re going to be sitting heater. If they’re sitting heater, they’re going too early for the changeup or slider that’s coming, and that’s going to result in weak contact or they may just take it for a strike.”

That’s part of the mental side of the game that Chandler didn’t dive into as much in his first couple years of pro ball. He’s always had the tools, especially that fastball that can ramp up to the upper-90s with high spin to give it the illusion of rise, but now that he’s focused more on sequencing and learning when he should be throwing each pitch, it’s starting to play at the top of the zone more.

When he can do that, it explains how he can have outings like he had this past Wednesday against the Nationals' affiliate, Harrisburg Senators, when he struck out seven in 7 2/3 innings of two-hit, scoreless baseball for a 3-0 win.

It’s also why he’s risen to being the team’s top prospect. To address the elephant in the room, that is mostly due to Skenes and Jared Jones pitching enough Major League innings to lose their rookie and prospect status, but Chandler’s stock is rising too. So much so that the odds of the Pirates trading him are slim to none, regardless of what he might think after misinterpreting a text.

One can’t help but also wonder what that Pirates rotation could look like in the near future with him in it. Sure, a core of Skenes, Jones and Mitch Keller already gives the Pirates one of the most exciting top threes in baseball, and pitchers like Bailey Falter and Johan Oviedo also have upside, but add Chandler to that mix and it could be one of the best rotations in the game. Chandler’s not getting too far ahead of himself, but he understands the hype.

“What we got going in Pittsburgh right now, with all the guys we’ve got, whether they’re hitters or arms, something special is about to happen soon,” Chandler said. “I would love to be a part of it.”

We’re going to take a look at the top prospect at each affiliate in the first half. Chandler takes the honors for Altoona, and at the other levels…

Triple-A Indianapolis: Right-hander Paul Skenes

Sure, he only threw 27 1/3 innings in the Minors this year, and he’s been in the Majors for nearly two months, but nobody has made an impact in Indianapolis quite like Skenes’ cup of coffee, where he pitched to a sub-1 ERA and struck out 42.9% of his batters faced.

High-A Greensboro: Utility player Charles McAdoo (No. 29 prospect)

McAdoo recently received the call to Altoona, and deservedly so after he hit .336 with a .975 OPS and nine home runs in 258 trips to the plate at Greensboro. The key to his success? Learning how to have fun while playing the game.

Single-A Bradenton: Right-hander Carlson Reed

Reed was taken in the fourth round of the 2023 Draft and has shown some serious swing-and-miss pitches, especially with his slider. So far, he’s recorded a 2.59 ERA and 77 strikeouts over 62 2/3 innings, making his transition back into a starting rotation look seamless.

Top prospect gets the call to Futures Game (2024)
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