Champlain showing everyone what he's 'about'

May 30th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers’ Royals Beat newsletter. This week's version was handled by's Jackson Stone. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

KANSAS CITY -- was disgusted with his first start of the 2024 season.

The Royals’ No. 11-ranked prospect went just 2 2/3 innings in his season debut for Double-A Northwest Arkansas on April 7, allowing a career-high eight runs on seven hits. But how he responded in his seven outings since, and his attitude to get better because of it, are why Kansas City is so high on the right-hander.

“I just had to go home that night and think to myself, ‘I’m Chandler Champlain, damn it. That’s not who I am and that’s not who I’m about,’” Champlain said. “I had to turn the page real quick, get with my pitching coach and game plan for the next start. I didn’t think about it or dwell on it too much.”

Champlain displayed what he is “about” immediately afterwards, pitching to a 1.62 ERA in his final six starts with the Naturals. He struck out 44 and walked just six in 33 1/3 innings, highlighted by back-to-back scoreless outings of at least six innings on May 9 and 15. His dominant stretch earned him a promotion to Triple-A Omaha on May 20.

But Champlain's meteoric rise in the Royals’ farm system started in 2023 -- the best professional season of his career to date. In 25 starts with High-A Quad Cities and Northwest Arkansas, the 24-year-old compiled a 3.33 ERA over 135 1/3 innings. Champlain struck out 22.8% of batters and had a walk rate of just 7.8%. He jumped from Kansas City's No. 26 prospect to No. 11 this offseason.

“Last year it was nice to see him transition from A-ball to Double-A and see the success he had,” said director of player development/field coordinator Mitch Maier. “But also, it’s about knowing we aren’t trying to just be successful at the Double-A level, we are trying to set you up for success at the Triple-A level and eventually here at the Major League level.”

The Royals had that goal in mind from the moment they acquired Champlain in the Andrew Benintendi trade with the Yankees in 2022. New York taught Champlain a sweeper, but Kansas City was focused on teaching Champlain to throw a changeup, which it thought could play well against lefties, especially in the big leagues.

“It really is the best pitch in baseball,” Champlain said. “No matter if you have a disgusting one like Michael Wacha or just an average one like me … it just really upsets hitters’ timings. It puts it in the back of their mind that I have something that is going to deceive them as a fastball.

“When I got traded over to the Royals, they definitely made it a point that I should have a changeup in my arsenal if I’m going to be a dominant starting pitcher.”

Champlain relies on his fastball/curveball combination, with a slider and a cutter thrown into the mix, but his changeup development has been crucial to his success. In his Triple-A debut with the Storm Chasers on May 23, he relied on his changeup in the later innings to get outs. The first three batters reached in the first inning, but the 6-foot-5 righty settled and still dealt a quality start (five strikeouts and three runs allowed in six innings). He set down 16 of his final 19 batters, and not a single batter reached when Champlain threw a changeup at least once during an at-bat.

“I am one of those pitchers that even though I don’t throw 100 [mph], I have a mentality like I do throw 100,” Champlain said. “I just attack hitters and I don’t really care. It’s like a, ‘I dare you to hit it. Here it is,’ mentality.”

Champlain has perfected the bulldog persona, which has earned him his fearless identity on the mound, but pitch sequence and execution are his top priorities this season. And the aforementioned Wacha, who Champlain spent a lot of time with during Spring Training at big league camp, played a big role in the development of that alongside Seth Lugo and Cole Ragans.

“We would watch in the dugout and ask, ‘What would you throw here, and why?’ Or ask about pitch grips or mental cues,” Champlain said. “I just picked their brains because they have done it for a very long time and have had a very successful career, and that’s what I want to have. So why not ask the best of the best?”

Now just one stop away from the big leagues, Champlain is closing in on his mission to become a Major League pitcher.

And there’s no reason anyone should doubt his ability to accomplish it.

“I’ve always had a mentality of having a chip on my shoulder and trying to prove people wrong. 'I’m Chandler Champlain and you’re going to remember my name,'” he said. “I want to leave an impact on this game. I don’t want to be a nobody. Every time I go out there, I just want to show the world who I am and I just want to dominate. I want to leave my mark wherever I go.”