Height: 6’4” Weight: 180
DOB: August 3rdDrafted: Kansas City Royals in the 1st round (5thStats2012 Season
53 games, 232 PA, 35 R, 8 2B, 10 HR, 33 RBI, 10 SB, .275 BA, .371 OBP, .856 OPS2013 Season
74 games, 295 PA, 35 R, 14 2B, 8 HR, 40 RBI, 9 SB, .230 BA, .308 OBP, .692 OPS
Introduction: For those of you who follow the Royals on even a semi-regular basis, Bubba Starling needs no introduction.
Starling with a clean cut
I’m gonna write one, anyway. You see, there’s more to this immensely-talented kid than most realize. After the trade of Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery to Tampa for RHPs James Shields and Wade Davis, a move which actually turned out to be in the best interests of the Royals (for the moment), the status of de facto top prospect in the system fell to Starling and his significant potential. That’s a lot of pressure to have put upon you. Add to that the fact that Starling is tremendously athletic, as well as tremendously raw, and you’ve got the weight of an organization on your shoulders. Now there are certainly many other seriously talented players in the organization now, but Bubba is the name on the minds of the multitude of KC fans.
Batting: Watching Starling take batting practice is quite a sight to behold. Bubba is a bat-wielding behemoth who banishes baseballs with bombastic brawn. In short, there’s a ton of raw power here. The key word, of course, is ‘raw’. While Starling was one of the best athletes in Kansas, entertaining the notion of becoming QB for Nebraska before the Royals drafted him, he likely had more ability as a football player than he had in baseball at the time of his signing. Indeed, he managed to hold his own in his first year in pro ball, and while he hit a rough stretch here in Lexington (owing to poor night vision), he has picked up the pace after having had LASIK just over a month ago. Starling has very quick hands and can turn on plus fastballs with relative ease. He keeps a sturdy and balanced lower half, taking only a small slide step when he loads up to swing. His swing path is smooth and level. There is some movement in his hands (“they migrate”, as a friend of mine put it) that ideally should be minimized, but this often causes only minor issues with hitters who with the strength and reflexes of a player like Starling. Still, it sometimes affects him on outside breaking balls, adding a fraction of a second or so to his swing path, and this is magnified by the fact that he is still so raw at the plate. He hits powerful line shots to all fields, and is starting to show an improved ability to hit to right with authority. While he can rely on superior reflexes to turn on the inside pitch, he is more of a rhythm swinger than a reactionary one. Consequently, his approach can be countered by above-average off-speed offerings (and often has been, this year). He struggles vs. good curves and can be fooled on pitches in the dirt, but his batting eye is noticeably coming along and he is making some adjustments presently that were not apparent at the start of the year. Still, he has a long way to go before his batting potential is realized.
Fielding: Starling takes long strides in center, reaching many fly balls outside of the typical range of the average center fielder. He glides to the ball with ease, in a manner which might make the average fan believe that Starling is lackadaisical in his approach. For someone with his range, it just looks easy. Starling shows plus arm strength and makes strong and accurate throws, though at times he will appear to take slightly longer in getting rid of the ball than perhaps he should. This may be a confidence issue (I’ll explain that in a moment), or it may have been vision-related. He could touch the mid-90’s on the mound, in the unlikely event that center field doesn’t work out. He doesn’t always take direct routes to the ball, and sometimes will take several steps back on balls that are actually set to fall in front of him. It usually doesn’t matter, since his speed allows him a margin for error in this respect. At the higher levels he won’t be able to get by like that, but I expect that he will make adjustments well before he gets to Double or Triple-A. He can come in on a ball very quickly, sometimes making catches just beyond second base around 10-15 feet beyond the infield dirt. Also of note: here in Lexington, with the rangy speedster Terrance Gore in left, Starling basically has to share fly balls with him. Certainly, Gore could be in center if not for Starling’s presence. Starling does not always react well to being called off a ball (again, I will cover that in a moment).
Baserunning: Starling has easy plus speed on the bases, as well, covering lots of ground with long and powerful strides. His first step isn’t as quick as it could be, and this will likely not improve a great deal. Starling is a large individual, and still projects to add around 20 pounds before he fully matures. Still, there’s no reason to think that he won’t be able to swipe 15-20 bags in the majors, even with the added weight. His base-running instincts have definite room for improvement, at this stage, but that will come with time as well. He can advance from first to third or second to home on a single to the outfield, and reaches full speed within a few steps. He is not overly aggressive, nor should he be at this point in his development. All told, with his plus speed and power, he profiles as a top-tier run producer at his peak.
Intangibles: OK, this is where I explain what I meant so many parentheses ago: Starling is, to put it nicely, demonstrative. He will sometimes call out a teammate in the field when he is called off of a fly ball, take a bad at-bat to the field with him, or raise his hands in exasperation when the game is getting out of hand. Earlier in the season, he had a habit of dropping frequent f-bombs after making outs at the plate. As this is Class A ball, and there are many families attending games (families with young kids), he was usually on said bombing runs right in front of around a half-dozen 10-year old children. One day, an official with the Royals’ player development department was on-hand for one of these ‘moments’. I imagine the subject was broached with Starling; these incidents have been exceedingly rare, since then. All I’m really saying here is that Bubba is a young man, and as such he sometimes lets his anger get the better of him. If he wasn’t a professional baseball player, no one would even notice. He has at times appeared curt and somewhat self-absorbed on the field, but I cannot say I have ever seen him acting in any way other than as a consummate professional when interacting with fans. Often, I have seen him sign autographs for or pose for photos with fans until the last fan was gone, and I feel like this should always be noted regardless of the player involved. It’s certainly good PR for the Royals. I feel he would ultimately be a standout as a leader in the clubhouse, but more by example than by mere words.
Overall: There is much to like about young Mr. Starling, but it should be noted that he will only be 21 this August and is a long way from fulfilling his potential. The talent is there, but it is definitely raw and will take much time and effort before it is fully realized. If he were a September call-up by 2014, I would be flabbergasted. He probably won’t make his first ML appearance before 2016, just after his 24th birthday. I can see him becoming a 20 HR/20 SB guy with little effort; as a full-time player this is probably his floor. His ceiling is far above that, as he could possibly hit 30+ bombs every year in The Bigs. Strikeouts are a major problem right now, and his pitch recognition will go a long, long way toward determining how quickly and how far he goes. Even if absolutely nothing went right for him at ALL, he’d still make it to the majors as a great bench player. Bubba will need to keep a proper perspective as he advances, as the fame which accompanies a player of his stature will increase exponentially as he advances. With respect to Starling, this may also prove to be a significant challenge for him. It is not, however, one which he cannot handle; that particular one is completely up to him.