The 23-year-old Starling has enjoyed a breakthrough at the plate in 2015, slashing .386/.471/.614 at High A, .254/.318/426 at AA NW Arkansas, and .274/.330/.440 in the Arizona Fall League. Kansas CIty Royals vice president/assistant general manager of player personnel J.J. Piccollo told MLB.com:
"“He’s just a different hitter now than what we saw of him a few years ago,” Picollo said. “There haven’t been many major mechanical adjustments. He did have this little waggle with his hands when he was loading that used to slow down his swing and made him late on everything.“We worked with him to get rid of that, and finally last year we saw that happen. He’s just quicker to the ball. He’s more confident, more mature.”"
The Gardner, Kansas native Bubba Starling turned down a full scholarship to play quarterback at Nebraska to sign with the KC Royals for $7 million. Royals general manager Dayton Moore proclaims that Starling’s defense is already “major league ready”.
The upshot is that the Kansas City Royals front office intends to invite Starling to spring training in 2016, and believe he will make his major-league debut sometime in 2016. Piccolo hopes that Bubba Starling will be ready to hold down a major-league starting job by 2017.
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That timetable will impact how the KC Royals will approach free-agency before the 2016 season. With Starling on his way to a major-league job, Dayton Moore is unlikely to seek more than one long-term outfield solution this winter even though both left fielder Alex Gordon and right fielder Alex Rios are free agents.
Moore might bring back Gordon on a long-term contract, or sign trade deadline rental Ben Zobrist to replace him. Or, Moore could come to terms with free-agent outfielders Gerardo Parra or trade for Jackie Bradley Jr. What he won’t do is add TWO long-term outfield-only solutions to the mix.
This reality means players like Jose Martinez (who was added to the 40-man roster) and Brett Eibner will get a shot at earning a job this spring. Paulo Orlando and Jarrod Dyson could hold down right field with a platoon. If David Glass stretches the payroll to take another shot at a second straight World Series crown in 2016, he could authorize free-agent deals for both Alex Gordon and Ben Zobrist.
In the latter case, the KC Royals would likely open with Ben Zobrist playing in right, Alex Gordon in left, and a hopefully-healthy Omar Infante at second. Infante is expected to undergo elbow surgery this winter to fix a bone spur that has plagued him the last two seasons. Zobrist would provide both utility infield insurance in case Infante remains ineffective, and hold down a starting outfield spot until one of the prospects shows they can handle a full-time job.
If either Martinez or Eibner make a strong showing this spring, no. 5 outfielder Jarrod Dyson could become trade bait. While the 31-year-old Dyson would not bring back a major piece on the trade market, his elite base running and defense has value to a contender off the bench. Dyson could bring back a minor-league power arm to help maintain the KC Royals impressive bullpen depth.
If Dayton Moore is to create a consistent winner in Kansas City, he will have to carefully incorporate “second wave” talents into his core. Part of managing this turnover will be to trade off established pieces to re-stock the prospect pipeline.
Watching Moore manage Bubba Starling’s transition to the KC Royals major-league roster will give fans a clue how successful Moore will be at keeping the party going past 2015.