For years, we had been waiting for Bubba Starling to break out. The fifth overall selection of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft, Starling was a raw player with the potential to be a five tool outfielder. At only 18 years of age when he was drafted out of Gardner-Edgerton High School, we all knew it would take some time before Starling would appear with the Kansas City Royals.
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Despite being considered one of the top prospects in baseball during his first two seasons, Starling struggled. Yet, the Royals kept moving him up the ranks, until he truly bottomed out last season, producing a .218/.304/.338 batting line, striking out 150 times in 549 at bats. The power that had flashed at times was slowly disappearing, as Starling hit only nine home runs. Yes, it was only three years into his minor league career, but the bust label was already starting to get bandied about.
Naturally, the 2015 season was expected to be crucial for determining Bubba Starling’s future. Repeating a level for the first time, as he opened the season with the Wilmington Blue Rocks once more. This time, Starling set the Carolina League ablaze, producing a .386/.471/.614 batting line with two home runs and two steals in 51 plate appearances. That production was enough for Starling to receive his first promotion to the proving grounds of AA and the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.
Starling struggled in his initial taste of the Texas League, hitting at a mere .176/.263/.235 rate with one extra base hit in his first 19 plate appearances. Obviously, that small of a sample size did not much, but it was still worth keeping an eye on. Since then, Starling has begin to pick up his production, turning in a .255/.356/.490 batting line with three home runs and three doubles overall for the Naturals.
Maybe the batting average is a bit low for what one would hope for, but there have been a few positive signs for the Kansas City Royals former top prospect. He is hitting the ball well, with a 25.6% line drive rate. Starling is also solid eye for the strike zone, walking in 11.9% of his plate appearances, 2.2% higher than league average. Those troublesome strikeouts have decreased, as Starling is striking out at a league average 20.3% rate, the lowest mark of his career thus far.
Even that low .255 batting average is somewhat misleading. In his 59 plate appearances, Starling has a mere .278 batting average on balls in play, far below the .313 batting average on balls in play. Should that line drive rate stay consistent, Starling’s batting line should improve, making him look more like the player that Northwest Arkansas actually has.
After possibly being on the verge of being considered a bust, Bubba Starling has started to look like the prospect the Kansas City Royals expected. It could be that we are finally seeing Starling flip that switch.