The Kansas City Royals’ fans have quite a few wishes for the 2020 season. Productivity in center field should be one of them.
Welcome to Kings of Kauffman’s 12 days of Kansas City Royals Christmas series. Every day leading up to Dec. 25, the team here will take turns coming up with their wish lists for the hometown squad. Today, let’s focus on the center field position.
2019 was a rough year for the Royals’ two main players out in center. After trading speedster Billy Hamilton midseason to the Atlanta Braves, the door was opened for longtime prospect Bubba Starling and the exciting Brett Phillips to show what they had to offer. In 86 combined games, though, the results weren’t very pretty.
Starling made his highly-anticipated MLB debut on July 12, going on to appear in 56 games with the Royals. In those contests, the former five-tool prospect and first-round pick hit for a .215 batting average and posted an on-base percentage of .255. Clobbering four home runs and driving in 12 base runners over that span, Starling’s production completely tailed off after July.
In 15 July games, Starling hit .276 and appeared to be productive enough to stick at the MLB level. It was a far cry from the star-studded high school prospect the organization once took a chance on but nevertheless, accumulating innings at the MLB level was a positive step. He bounced back a tad in Aug./Sept. with a .625 OPS, although that’s still nowhere near the level it should be.
As for Phillips, his reputation heading into 2019 was simple: excellent defender, good baserunner, terrible at the plate. After 30 major league games, his reputation was serving as an excellent defender, good baserunner and being terrible at the plate. Not much changed to excite Royals fans.
In 79 plate appearances, Phillips posted a lowly .138 batting average, .247 on-base percentage and .262 slugging percentage. Combining for an OPS near .500 (.508), Phillips would’ve been the worst hitter in the MLB if he continued doing so for a full season.
The saving graces for Starling (athletic prowess) and Phillips (insanely good defender) are great, but ultimately how they perform at the plate in 2020 will make — or break — the remainder of their MLB careers. Potential is great but with both players no longer being “prospect age” (Phillips is 25, Starling 27), it’s time to shine.
Here’s to hoping both players figure things out in 2020!