A fan favorite is probably playing his final days with the Royals.
Bubba Starling was, in 2011, a two-way sure bet, destined to star professionally in football or baseball depending on which sport he chose. Already signed to play quarterback at Nebraska, his first Big 10 season was just around the corner when the KC Royals chose him in the first round of the amateur draft.
Bubba picked baseball. He was can’t miss.
But, sadly, some can’t miss ballplayers do miss, and Starling is one of them. The Royals surely wish it wasn’t so, but the numbers prove it is.
In eight minor league seasons occasionally interrupted by injury, Starling slashed .244/.317/.393, hit 69 homers and drove in 304 runs. The .275 he hit in his first professional season remains his highest full-season average; the 13 homers he hit the following season are his best at any level.
A breakout finally seemed possible last season when Starling’s .310 average at Omaha warranted a July call-up to the Royals. He started well, then fizzled to a final .215/.255/.317 56-game slash.
Starling’s 2020 spring and summer training performances were good, but his season hasn’t been. The stellar play of Edward Olivares, and a .227 average with one homer and five RBIs in 29 games, have pushed him deeper into the dugout than he was when the season began.
To make matters worse, Starling finds himself in an outfield teeming with veterans and rising stars. Left fielder Alex Gordon isn’t the player he used to be, but will probably return for another season. Olivares is well on the way to earning a starting job, and Hunter Dozier’s recent stint at first base may signal a move to right field for Whit Merrifield. Nick Heath is back with the big club; Kyle Isbel and Khalil Lee are a step away from the majors. Something must give, and that something is looking more and more like Bubba Starling.
Parting ways with Starling makes sense. Because he’s out of options, he can’t be sent back to the minors. He doesn’t hit big league pitching; his glove work is good, but the KC Royals already have excellent defensive outfield depth. And he’s 28, an age when good outfielders should be approaching their prime, not struggling to win a spot on the bench.
Starling has been a fan favorite. Unfortunately, his is a chapter in club history the Royals should close.
The KC Royals have serious offensive needs. To ensure room for filling those needs, they must preserve roster space; moving on from Ian Kennedy, Matt Harvey, Mike Montgomery, and Bubba Starling will help.