Kansas City Royals: Revisiting Missed Opportunity in 2011 MLB Draft

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 06: Francisco Lindor
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 06: Francisco Lindor /

The Kansas City Royals managed to make two World Series in recent years. But what shape would the franchise be in had it not struck out on Bubba Starling?

The Kansas City Royals 2017 draft class could be one that turns their future around. Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez, Evan Steele and Michael Gigliotti all look like they may shoot their way up the Royals’ top-30 prospects list this offseason. This is further evidence that one great draft class can alter a franchise.

But bad draft classes can alter franchises, too, and the Kansas City Royals had a really bad draft in 2011. With the fifth-overall pick in the 2011 draft, the Royals drafted local stud Bubba Starling. Starling was thought of as a five-tool, can’t-miss prospect. So much so, that the Kansas City Royals were willing to give Starling a $7.5 million signing bonus to ensure that he would sign with them—instead of attending the University of Nebraska.

Starling still has a chance to be a Major League Baseball player. The pick itself may turn out to be a bust, but it becomes 1,000 times worse when you find out who was drafted after Bubba. Let’s go back to look at the 2011 draft and what could have been for the Kansas City Royals:

First-Round Selections

1.) Gerrit Cole, SP, Pittsburgh

2.) Danny Hultzen, SP, Seattle

3.) Trevor Bauer, SP, Arizona

4.) Dylan Bundy, SP, Baltimore

5.) Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City

Now, it gets really fun ……….

6.) Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington

8.) Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland

9.) Javier Baez, IF, Chicago Cubs

11.) George Springer, OF, Houston

14.) Jose Fernandez, SP, Florida (Miami)

18.) Sonny Gray, SP, Oakland

29.) Joe Panik, 2B, San Francisco

40.) Jackie Bradley, OF, Boston

44.) Michael Fulmer, SP, New York Mets

45.) Trevor Story, SS, Colorado

What Could Have Been

That list hurts. A lot. Like, a lot a lot. When the Kansas City Royals drafted Starling, I’m sure they were anticipating him being in the outfield when Wade Davis threw the final strike of the 2015 World Series. Instead, the 2017 season has ended, and we are still awaiting Starling’s MLB debut.

In 2017, the 10 players I listed that were drafted after Starling combined for 31.4 WAR, according to FanGraphs. That number doesn’t include contributions from Fernandez, who put up a 6.2 WAR before his tragic death in 2016.

The Kansas City Royals missed the playoffs by five games in 2017. According to FanGraphs, Lindor was worth 5.5 wins more than Alcides Escobar. (I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.) Any one of those players would undoubtedly have been a better selection than Starling wound up being.

This is not a knock on Bubba Starling. I’ve never met Bubba. But I’ve heard from people who know him, and they all suggest that he’s a fine young man. I also wrote an article earlier this fall, detailing how I think Starling has a shot to start in center field for KC in 2018. Bubba did not select himself fifth overall, and I don’t blame the kid at all. Everyone develops at their own pace.

What’s the Lesson Here?

The point of this is to show fans that, A), the MLB draft is a total crapshoot 99% of the time, and B), that every single pick can alter your franchise.

More from Kings of Kauffman

Take Jarrod Dyson, for example. Although he didn’t start much for Kansas City, there’s a decent argument to be made that the Royals don’t win the World Series without him. And he was a 50th-round draft pick.

To put that into context, the San Diego Padres wasted a 28th-round draft pick on Johnny Manziel as a publicity stunt back in 2014. Jake Junis was a 29th-round pick by Kansas City in the same draft as Starling in 2011. Every single draft pick has the chance to alter the destiny of a franchise, no matter how late in the draft they’re selected.

The Royals have been famous for whiffing on big-time picks. They passed on Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer in 2006. Matt Harvey and Chris Sale in 2010. Every time the Kansas City Royals draft, it seems the joke of the day is that whomever goes next is set to make the Hall of Fame.

Next: Top Performances in 2017 Season

Hopefully, this 2017 draft class can right the ship. I started the article by naming four guys from the class who I think have the chance to shoot up prospect lists: Pratto, Melendez, Steele and Gigliotti. But there are some other guys like Daniel Tillo, Holden Capps and Sal Biasi who I think have a chance to reach the big leagues one day, as well. Every single pick matters, and it’ll be fun to see which, if any, 2017 pick rises to the challenge down the road.