Mar 8, 2013; Melbourne, FL, USA; Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon (6) against the St. Louis Cardinals during a spring training game at Space Coast Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Brief Revisit of the Royals 2011 Draft: Bubba Starling and Anthony Rendon

Before this season, so much was said about improvements to the pitching staff and how they would make the Royals competitive. The starters have done their part.

The assumption was that the offense would improve from last year. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas needed to improve on disappointing 2012 seasons. Neither have to this point, as they’ve gotten a combined 16 hits in 86 at bats. There have been a lot of off days and some interleague play took Hosmer out of the lineup, so maybe it’s a timing issue for the young players. It’s still concerning.

Already there are calls for demotions, to send either or both to Omaha to have them work out their problems. I should qualify that both are young and I don’t know that anyone believes that either will be complete busts, but the lofty ceilings that were in mind prior to 2011 have lowered. The scary part is that the Royals are all-in on them, so any struggles will inspire nervousness. There’s a lot invested in these two, and there aren’t really backup options if they fail – or at least none close.

The Royals Triple A team is mostly filled with minor league free agents and veterans trying to make their way back.

I can’t help but feel jealous when looking towards Washington. Let’s revisit the 2011 draft for a moment. The Royals selected Bubba Starling after Trevor Bauer and Dylan Bundy were both taken just ahead of their fifth pick. The selection of a local kid with big tools was a popular one, but there was significant risk in the pick. So far, those worst fears are being realized, as Starling is hitting .136/.203/.237 in Low A through 17 games in 2013. He’s hit better as of late after a terrible start, but there’s still significant concern (as Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus discussed on a recent episode of the Kansas City Baseball Vault).

So it makes me ask the question: How much better off would the Royals be if they’d selected Anthony Rendon instead?

Rendon was drafted out of Rice University as a third baseman, and recently, with the move of Ryan Zimmerman to the disabled list, he was called up from Double A to fill that spot for the Nationals. In 225 plate appearances in the minors, Rendon has an OPS of .883. Not super-prospect worthy, but he’s skilled enough to be a top 30 overall prospect. He’s a former college freshman of the year and a Golden Spikes Award winner.

In 2011, he was drafted sixth overall despite recovering from a shoulder injury at the time (and already seemed injury-prone after ankle ligament problems and a broken ankle in his past). It was widely suspected that the Seattle Mariners would take him with the second overall pick and it surprised most when they chose left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen instead.

I don’t think the Royals had put much thought into drafting Rendon, mostly being connected to a pitcher or Starling. They’d had heavy discussions with Bundy, but he was selected one pick ahead of them by the Baltimore Orioles. That left it to Starling versus Rendon and they chose Starling.

At this point, given Starling’s struggles, Rendon’s success, and his flexibility, it looks like a miss. Of course, if the Royals were leading the league in scoring and Hosmer and Moustakas had five homers each, the context would shift and letting a young hitter develop on a long-term plan looks a lot better. If they’re hitting, there’s no question of looking for alternatives (or even letting the idea come to mind). Rendon has played a bit of second base as well, so he could have been a backup option for Johnny Giavotella.

So while Rendon celebrates his major league debut, Starling is in the South Atlantic League. As questions arise about the Royals top hitting prospects, Rendon is showing enough to let the Nationals give him a look. Maybe he’ll never pan out to be the player many expect him to be, or maybe he’ll be an All-Star, but having the option – even if just in case – would be a nice luxury right now.

Did the Royals miss an opportunity in the 2011 draft? Perhaps so. They’d at least have a bat that has more polish than Starling’s, even if the extreme upside isn’t the same. And they’d have an option in case Moustakas never figures it out (though I think it’s well too soon to panic). And if everything else was fine, he’d be a potential All-Star at second base.

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Tags: Anthony Rendon Bubba Starling Kansas City Royals

  • jimfetterolf

    Watched some video of Starling, he looks fixable, has funny footwork and a Frenchy bat wrap, so not too worried.

    I remember the discussions on Rendon, injury-injury-injury was the consensus. Starling was seen as a prospect with high ceiling as well as good PR. I still like the pick, but the Royals need to send Kevin Seitzer on east on a consultant contract for a month.

  • C Riddle

    There are things going on with Starling that aren’t being discussed, so I prefer to wait and see how it goes with him.

  • Joe

    The Royals have a lot better chance of doing well than this author. Just another would be writer focusing on all the negatives. I know it’s the new style of journalism, but give me a break. The Royals are 17-10 and all I hear is complaints. Take this type of reporting and put it where no one has to read it, regardless of how uncomfortable sitting would be for a while. Everyone doesn’t have to be Jim Rome.

    • Michael Engel

      Context is important in this case.

      When I wrote this piece, it was 1 p.m. on April 21st. The Royals were 8-7. Mike Moustakas had a .430 OPS and looked like he probably needed to retool something in Omaha.

      The piece is focused (feel free to read it again) on the lack of an immediate alternative for Moose this year that could have been secured in the draft two years ago.

      I’m not just picking out negatives to be negative, and I’m not just making outlandish claims to draw attention. Bubba Starling could be a complete bust, and it’s entirely valid to ask “Should they have gone another route?” – maybe it’s not sunshiney and happy, but it’s honest. And it’s fair. That’s not “new style of journalism”. That’s journalism. Here are facts, here are my opinions in light of those facts.

      Dismissing the question simply because you disagree with it is disingenuous.

      Also, I’m wondering if this is the first you’ve read something I’ve written before because I’m sure you’ll find that I’m generally optimistic, looking for the bright side, and trying to find how things can work, rather than coming up with reasons why they won’t. I’ll point out the good AND the bad. If I disagree with a decision by the front office, I’ll say so. If I agree with a move, I’ll say so. The record is irrelevant. I want them to win every game they play, but they won’t, and they aren’t a perfect team. I don’t feel that I need to dress it up as if they are.

      Thank you for reading all the same.

    • loylroyal

      As a die-hard Rangers fan (where our kids grew up-not me), I didn’t really start to follow the Royals until my son was drafted by them last year, so I spent the off-season beginning to get to know the Royals organization through Pine Tar Press, KOK, and even the local KS Star. From my perspective, it’s incredible the passion that fans show to the Royals-but equally sad at the amount of negativity that persists, even at a winning record of 17-10. Sure-the years have not been kind to Royals fans, but this years team is producing up and down the lineup, the pitching staff is greatly improved, and for the fans this year, there seems to be hope and optimism that the Royals have turned the corner.

      I remember growing up in NY and listening to the media assassinate Bill Parcells as he rebuilt the NY Giants. One comment that particularly stands out is hearing an announcer quote that “Bill Parcells is now in the 6th year of his 5-year plan…” That was tough; but Parcells trudged on, and in a year or two he brought the organization the Super Bowl championship. I think the Royals organization is in a good place, and hope fans (and writers who actually make a living criticizing the club) take a closer look at where the Royals are today-Its a fun product to watch, and everyone on the club is contributing. Perhaps some may not be happy with the individual effort of a few, but keep in mind the Royals are 17-10 and performing way better than recent years.

      It’s ok to have hope and an optimistic outlook towards the Royals this year-just back away from the ledge sir, and enjoy the ride-it’s a great product to be proud of for years to come.

      • Michael Engel

        But, again, it’s fine to be positive and optimistic, but there’s also a realistic element to keep in mind. It’s possible to be optimistic yet still criticize or at least bring up the question of “is there a better way this could have went?”

        Writers who do this for a living aren’t paid by the Royals. They’re paid by the Star, by Yahoo Sports, by ESPN or what have you. It’s great to feel good and they’re 17-11. That’s awesome. I was at Sunday’s game and had a blast watching Davis rebound and seeing the comeback in the ninth and tenth. But it’s not always rosy, it’s not always positive, and it’s entirely fair to just not be okay with every decision while still enjoying the ride.