KC Royals former top prospect Bubba Starling took a major step back in 2016, producing his worst season in professional baseball. But, the Kansas City front office still has hopes for Starling.
Kansas City Royals outfielder Bubba Starling faces a career crossroads this spring at age 24. If he can solve his problems at the plate, he could spend a decade as a major league starter. If not, he’s looking at a career as a fringe bench player valued for his defense. Let’s take a quick look at how a much-hyped prospect got in this situation.
After getting a late start in his baseball career, Starling quickly burst onto the MLB Draft radar as a multi-sport star in high school at Gardner, Kansas. The Royals then picked Starling with the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft. The hometown kid decided to sign with the Kansas City Royals for a record bonus, opting out of a football scholarship to Nebraska.
After the KC Royals drafted him in 2011, Starling quickly turned heads after he posted a 135 wRC+ in Rookie League. This early success caused some huge hype for Starling, as he was ranked as high as the 24th best prospect in all of baseball in 2012.
The hype quickly slowed down though. After his great rookie debut, the Royals kept pushing Starling up the ranks. However, his bat struggled to keep pace. Starling’s production rapidly declined, until he produced a mere .642 OPS at A+ Wilmington in 2014. Many people around baseball were starting to give up on Starling.
Struggling At Wilminton Is Normal In The Royals System
However, those familiar with the KC Royals organization know that Wilmington is a brutal level for developing hitters. Wilmington’s home park has a notoriously tough hitting background that makes it difficult for many batters to see the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. For example, a 20-year-old Carlos Beltran famously hit a mere .229/.311/.363 in 1997. Two years later, he won the 1999 American League Rookie Of The Year Award in Kansas City.
Oh, yeah. Beltran is now a good candidate for induction in the Hall Of Fame at Cooperstown when he retires. Thus, a bad year at Wilmington hardly dooms the career of a young position player in the Kansas City system.