North Oconee HS RHP Bubba Chandler is unlike most prospects in the 2021 MLB Draft. He’s as talented as they come, there’s no doubt about that. But unlike most players in this class, Chandler’s future may not be on the diamond. Indeed, the gridiron may be Chandler’s ultimate calling.
Now, that being said, I wouldn’t be writing this were I not of the opinion Chandler will go pro in baseball. I’m of the belief someone will give the 6-foot-3-inch righty several million reasons to choose baseball over football. Chandler has seen a meteoric rise over the last half-year and he now squarely figures into the first round conversation come July.
This scouting report is going to be a little different that others I have written. Chandler is a do-it-all, Swiss Army Knife. He plays a pretty mean shortstop too, though scouts are a bit more divided on his switch-hitting bat than his ability on the mound. He’s the type of talent you get into your organization and then figure out what to do with all the talent shortly thereafter.
But before we dive too far into what Chandler is, let’s first identify the risks of selecting a player many believe has a legitimate shot of going toward football instead. There are pros and cons to dipping your toes in these waters, so it’s important we develop a clear understanding of what we’re getting into here.
First off, the only players we need to necessarily dissect here are top round talents. The Tom Brady’s (18th round) and Patrick Mahomes’ (37th round) of the world will always exist, but as later round selections in their respective MLB drafts, they were never going to garner a bonus big enough to sway them away from football.
The first and most obvious example that comes to mind is Kyler Murray, now-quarterback of the Arizona Cardinals. Murray was the 9th overall selection by the Oakland Athletics in the 2018 MLB Draft. His $4.66 million signing bonus was ultimately returned when he elected to go back to school and play quarterback at the University of Oklahoma. That decision paid off, becoming the no. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Oakland was left with nothing.
Going back a ways, in 1981, the Yankees drafted Stanford quarterback John Elway in the second round. The Mariners had the no. 1 overall pick that year, selecting RHP Mike Moore out of Oral Roberts. The Yankees were so intent on getting Elway into their system, they offered him a signing bonus larger than Moore’s bonus. That is inconceivable in today’s game.
Elway played just one season for Class-A Oneonta, batting .318/.432/.464, but very publicly leveraged a potential career in baseball to help cultivate a 1983 trade from the Colts to the Broncos. The rest is history. Once again, the Yankees, left with nothing.
There are other examples of teams taking risks early on to try and land an organization-altering player.
1989: Seattle Mariners, 1st round, HS QB Scott Burrell
1990: Toronto Blue Jays, 2nd round, Florida State QB Chris Weinke
1992: Florida Marlins, 2nd round, Stanford Safety John Lynch
1998: New York Yankees, 3rd round, Michigan QB Drew Henson
2002: New York Yankees, 2nd round, Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden
2006: Chicago Cubs, 6th round, Notre Dame WR Jeff Samardzija
2010: Colorado Rockies, 4th round, NC State QB Russell Wilson
So how does Chandler stack up to this list? According to Rivals, he’s a 3-star QB and the 27th-rated signal caller in the country this year. With Trevor Lawrence departing for the NFL, there will obviously be an enormous opportunity at the University of Clemson should Chandler set foot on campus.
But this is a baseball site and we write about baseball. So who is Chandler as a baseball prospect?
Chandler has the potential to be pretty special on the mound. He’s arguably the most athletic pitching prospect at the top of this class. He’s got a lightning quick arm with an impressive kick-step action down the mound and plenty of explosive energy in his delivery. It’s a reasonably vertical three-quarter arm-slot with a little bit of length in the back, though most would consider it a clean, athletic delivery.
There’s not a ton of film out there to dissect everything that Chandler is as a pitcher, primarily because he skipped most of the 2020 showcase circuit training for football. That said, he’s been pitching this spring and the whole package is enticing.
Future Value (Tools)
Chandler’s fastball generally sits 92-95, though he has been up to 97 in the past. He’s got some arm-side run and late sink to his heater. Given the athleticism, arm speed and frame, Chandler is going to be throwing a lot harder if/when he gets into pro ball and pours all his energy into pitching. I see no reason he can’t sit 94-98, potentially touching bigger numbers than that once fully-developed.
I don’t have any spin readings on Chandler, but reasonably safe to say he can really rip through a breaking ball. His more impressive bender, a 11-5 curveball, has sat in the high-70s this spring with depth and intent. Given his current stage of development on the mound, Chandler could be throwing his curveball in the low 80s by the time he’s fully-developed.
Like I said, I’ve really got limited looks at Chandler besides what’s publicly available. His slider is a low-80s offering with more sweep than depth right now. It’s been described as inconsistent, but with promising shape. My inclination, given the limited looks and velo provided is to throw a 55 on this pitch, but I could be entirely off-base here and there are certainly others out there that can provide a better idea of the pitch than I can right now. I hope that changes between now and July.
One thing has remained consistent over the last two years for Chandler and that’s his feel for the cambio. Going back to 2019 as a high school sophomore, Chandler has shown the ability to land his changeup for strikes and spot it particularly well arm-side. As of this spring, the pitch sits in the mid 80s with “late arm-side run” with particularly impressive control.
The 2021 MLB Draft is shaping up to be a rather odd class in terms of college talent. There looks to be plenty of pretty good college arms available, but it’s a dreadful class in terms of college bats. In turn, big league clubs may elect to reach for higher upside prep talent early in the draft this year than usual. Guys like Chandler and several other high-profile high schoolers may hear their names called early. Seattle is no stranger to Chandler, but the question will certainly be whether the team feels comfortable to jump on a prep righty in the first round. He’s a unique talent with maybe the biggest upside of any prep arm in the entire class. If Seattle doesn’t jump on him in round one, I feel pretty confident somebody will.