In 2011, the KC Royals drafted Bubba Starling, a local kid from nearby Gardner-Edgerton (Kansas) High School, in the first round of the major league draft. They thought so much of Starling that they used the fifth overall selection to claim him.
At the time, Starling was a prep phenom who’d hit .481 and averaged a home run every six at-bats for his team. It was also the season two key pieces of Kansas City’s future, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, were getting called up to the big leagues, and the Royals hoped Starling would soon join them at the major league level and be an important part of the club.
As it turned out, things didn’t work as planned for Starling.
He ended up playing for the Royals in only two seasons—2019 and 2020—and put up poor numbers no one foresaw when he began his pro career. He slashed .204/.246/.298 with a .544 OPS, and hit only five homers and drove in 17 runs in 91 games.
Starling didn’t make it back to Kansas City this season, working instead at Triple-A Omaha where he played 27 games.
Now, his playing days are over. Per The Athletic’s Alec Lewis, Starling announced via Facebook that he is retiring from pro baseball:
Bubba Starling didn’t succeed with the KC Royals like he did in football.
A three-sport star in high school, Starling was highly-touted coming out of Gardner-Edgerton, especially in football. He was a top quarterback who’d passed for 3,121 yards and 37 touchdowns and rushed for 4,033 and 50 touchdowns in his three-season prep career, and was committed to call signals for the University of Nebraska when the Royals drafted him.
After some deliberation, Starling signed to play in the outfield for Kansas City.
As it turned out, inconsistency at the plate and injuries plagued Starling in the minors, but he finally managed to break through at Omaha in 2019 when he slashed .310/.358/.448, clubbed seven home runs, and had 37 RBIs through 72 games. As a result, the KC Royals brought him up to make his major league debut in July. He notched his first big league hit and RBI against the Tigers in his second start.
Although he showed flashes of potential, Starling could never put things together, struggling with strikeouts in particular—he fanned 83 times in his 91 Kansas City games.
After the 2020 season ended, Starling became a free agent when the Royals didn’t offer him a 2021 contract. But they soon re-signed him to a minor league deal. Omaha was where Starling would end his professional career, slashing .258/.305/.557 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs in 27 games.
Bubba Starling finished his baseball career at the Summer Olympic Games.
Despite his pro ball disappointments, Starling achieved a great feat this past summer when he played for the United States at the Tokyo Olympics. In three games, Starling slashed .286/.375/.286 with two RBIs and a stolen base to help the United States win a silver medal.
Starling, who suffered a concussion in the Olympics, didn’t play again for Omaha.
Starling had his fair share of ups and downs and never quite panned out for the KC Royals, but he stayed committed and deserves the best of luck in his ventures outside baseball.
After a long 10-year journey through the Kansas City organization, Bubba Starling has announced his retirement from baseball.