Now a full-time pitcher, Chandler finds success in routine

March 2nd, 2024

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.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Just about every player will stress the importance of a routine and process for their success. Bubba Chandler is no exception, and it’s no surprise that finding that routine helped him skyrocket to MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, ranking at No. 93.

But that structure wasn’t just important for his on-field results. Finding a routine was a mental win.

“Once I did that, I felt better when I woke up in the morning and felt better when I went to sleep at night, spiritually and physically,” Chandler said.

That quote demanded a follow-up about whether there were times where Chandler wasn’t feeling good when he put his head on the pillow. His answer: From April 7 to July 11, the first half of High-A Greensboro’s schedule.

That first half of 2023 was rough for Chandler. He was drafted as a two-way player, and the promise of an opportunity to hit was a deciding factor for signing with the Pirates out of high school in 2021 rather than playing quarterback for Clemson. He was given an opportunity to do so, but the results weren’t great.

Going into last season, the Pirates told him he would not hit and would instead focus on just pitching. That stung. It was exacerbated by some poor on-field results, including a 6.79 ERA through the first of the season.

He needed a chance to unplug for a moment. He finally got one on July 12.

That first day of the All-Star break may end up as one of the most important days of Chandler’s professional career. It didn’t involve any baseball. He golfed with his dad and shot a 77 at Bryan Park. He caught an 8.4 pound bass. He spent time with his girlfriend.

And he became more introspective about what he wanted to do now that he was only pitching.

“Not hitting, it felt like I gave up on certain things,” Chandler said. “Which isn’t true, but in my mind, that’s what I thought. Once I pushed past that, I realized I have a real shot at pitching, it got better.”

Chandler began focusing on a routine that he could work on from start to start -- including how he prepared, how he slept, how he ate, how he scouted his next opponent and more. He felt more structure would help his mental health. It became easier to go to sleep.

His season did a complete 180. In his nine starts after that All-Star break, Chandler went 7-1 with a 1.66 ERA. He earned a promotion to Double-A Altoona for his final start of the year, in which he struck out eight hitters over five scoreless innings of one-hit ball.

“Once I really fell in love with that process, that routine, the season got easier,” Chandler said.

The routine is not exactly set in stone. After each start, Chandler wanted to focus on something that he did during that week. If the start went well, what could he attribute that to? Try to emphasize that before his next outing. If the start went poorly, what didn’t he do? Rectify that.

“If I stick to something like that, when the game comes, I know nothing is going to be different,” Chandler said. “I’ll be prepared for anything that comes, because I prepared like that throughout the week.”

Chandler has moved on from hitting, and he isn’t that interested in picking it back up. He’s a pitcher now, and a good one, as evidenced by his Top 100 Prospects nod. His agent was quick to share that with him, but Chandler tried to play it off, joking that it could be “rat poison.” Safe to say that’s referencing being careful when considering taking the bait.

With that said, Chandler is likely going to start with Altoona, and a midseason promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis seems possible. Half a season ago, he was struggling to adjust. Half a season from now, he could be a step away from the Majors.

“It’s human nature,” Chandler said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, nothing’s going to change. I’m still going to wake up and try to be the best version of myself.”