Bubba Starling was intended to be the beginning of a more long range view with the minor league system. When Dayton Moore came along, the system was virtually as barren as the Arctic tundra, necessitating an infusion of talent that could be ready to produce at the major league level as soon as possible. With Starling, the Royals were expecting to be able to take their time, being able to develop this raw talent into a potential major league star.
While Starling has been ranked amongst the top prospects each of the last two seasons, his numbers last season were underwhelming. While his initial season in the minors showed promise, Starling struggled to a .241/.329/.398 batting line in the South Atlantic League. While he did manage to steal 22 bases and continue to draw walks, his power numbers were decidedly down after his strong debut for the Burlington Royals.
Naturally, some of the luster has left this top prospect, to the point where he has fallen down the Royals prospect ranks. Yet, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that Starling was a raw talent to begin with, and is likely to go through a few rough stretches as he adjusts to playing in full season leagues. Starling was also only 20 at the start of the season, which is young for full season A ball.
Should he have really lost any of his prospect status due to his perceived struggles with the Lexington Legends? Looking into his 2013 season, Bubba Starling still did a number of things well. He drew walks at a 10.6% rate, approximately two points above league average. He hit line drives in 17% of his at bats, and had a league average batting average on balls in play. In fact, looking at the league average batting line for the South Atlantic League, which was .248/.322/.364, Starling was above average in a league that was dominated by pitching, even though he was young for his level.
Based upon the way that the South Atlantic League as a whole performed, Starling actually put up solid numbers. Are these the types of numbers one would hope for from a top prospect? Certainly not, especially when looked at in a vacuum. However, Starling’s performance in 2013 may not actually be as bad as it would have appeared.
Bubba Starling is still a long way away from the major leagues, and his stock may have taken a hit due to his performance last season. However, he still has a lot of time left to put everything together, and 2013 may not have been as bad as it would have seemed. Starling’s stock could easily go back up after the 2014 season.