The Kansas City Royals used a top-5 pick on a young stud from a high school nearby that led to very high expectations from fans.
One local player passed over in a past draft by the Kansas City Royals that still haunts many to this day. Instead, Albert Pujols ended up with the St. Louis Cardinals and produced Hall of Fame worthy numbers even as his star has faded some with the Los Angeles Angels.
Did that decision in 2011 and mounting fan fever lead the Royals to reach on selecting Bubba Starling from nearby Gardner, Kansas? Probably not. One thing we know is that Dayton Moore is not prone to make a player move just to appease the Kansas City supporters. And there were opinions that he was the best high school player available.
Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, there was added pressure for the high school kid to be the player that could help turn around the team’s fortunes. Starling’s first foray into professional baseball did not temper these hopes as he produced a .275/.371/.485 slash for the Rookie League Burlington Royals.
The next two seasons saw a downward tick in performance each year but decent success at Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2015 appeared to right the ship. However, 2016 was brutal with a split between the Naturals and Omaha Storm Chasers that ended with a .183 average and 145 strikeouts in 399 at-bats.
2017 and 2018 were injury-filled and the Kansas City Royals dropped Starling from their 40-man roster. This granted Bubba free agency but he quickly resigned with the team. And then a feel-good story emerged in 2019. His best stretch of baseball professionally in the first half of the season in Triple-A emerged with a .310 average and 20 extra-base hits in 72 games.
Assigning Starling back to the 40-man roster, the Royals called him up to the pros on July 12th. Eight long years after being drafted, the local kid finally made it to the top. The ovation he received by Kauffman fans in his debut gives you goosebumps. For the rest of the year, his defense was sterling and there were some highlights at the plate.
For 2020, though, Bubba will need to show more firepower at the plate. Kansas City desperately needs consistent production offensively from him to justify the roster spot. He will also turn 28 next August and with the team looking to jump back into relevance in the next year or two, sentimental moments will take a back seat to results.
I am pulling for Starling to make the team out of Spring Training and put together a solid season now that he has had nearly 200 plate appearances to adjust to big-league pitching. But it needs to happen next year so the Kansas City Royals can decide to make him a fixture in the outfield or move on.