While the Royals have made some bold acquisitions over the past few days trying to enhance their chances at winning their first World Series title in 30 years, one prospect had himself a night to remember on Tuesday.
Bubba Starling, the Royals’ number-five prospect according to the updated MLB.com rankings, went 4-for-5, hitting for the cycle while driving in three runs and also scoring three. After he grounded out in the first, Starling homered, his sixth of the season in the Texas League, in the third off of Arkansas Travelers’ starter Michael Brady. He doubled to left in the fifth and then stole third, tripled to left to lead off the seventh and then singled to left with one out in the ninth to complete the milestone.
Starling’s story has been well documented. He was the fifth-overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Gardner-Edgerton High School in nearby Gardner, Kansas. He starred in football and basketball along with baseball, and he had accepted a scholarship to play football and baseball at the University of Nebraska. The Royals signed him away from that commitment, giving him a franchise record $7.5 million bonus. He was labeled as a potential five-tool superstar because he could do everything well on a baseball diamond. But because of his commitment to other sports in high school and the fact that Kansas is not necessarily known for its amateur baseball, Starling was considered to be very raw.
Because he signed late, Starling did not start his pro career until June 2012, when he played with the Burlington Royals of the Appalachian League. He did not make his full-season debut until 2013, two years after he was drafted, for the Lexington Legends of the South Atlantic League. He only hit .241 there and hit .218 last season with Wilmington in the Carolina League.
This year, he repeated the Carolina League and tore it up, slashing .386/.471/.614 in 12 games there before getting promoted to the Texas League. With the cycle on Tuesday night, Starling upped his average in Double-A to .282. His defense has never been in doubt and he has a cannon for an arm. The question with him was always would he be able to make enough contact to reach his full potential? It has been a long road, and his journey is not done yet. But Starling deserves a lot of credit for the adjustments he has made as he has come a long way offensively in 2015.
For where he was drafted, it has taken Starling longer than most would have hoped. But the Royals knew he was going to take time to develop his raw abilities as an athlete and translate them on the baseball field. The cycle was the first one in Northwest Arkansas Naturals’ history, and it is just another step in what has been an excellent 2015 season for Starling in his development. Everybody develops at their own pace and Starling is still only 22 (he will turn 23 on August 3). While he may not be the superstar player people thought he could be, there is no reason why Starling can’t help the team he grew up rooting for in the near future.