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It’s Bubba Starling’s 21st birthday today and Royals are still excited about his potential

08/03/2013 12:56 AM

08/03/2013 12:57 AM

Royals prospect Bubba Starling turns 21 today.

Yep, he’s just 21.

That’s just the point the Royals make when people question Starling’s slow progress in the minor leagues. J.J. Picollo, the Royals’ assistant general manager for scouting and player development, points out that Starling would be just a sophomore at college had he gone that route (and likely would be the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ starting quarterback).

“There are a lot of things that we need Bubba to do, but overall he’s still a very, very good athlete who is trying to figure out how to use his tools to become a very, very good baseball player,” Picollo said in a recent phone interview.

“The tools are just off-the-chart type tools. He’s a plus-runner, he’s got plus-power, he’s a plus-defender, he’s got a plus-arm. So all the tools are there. Now it’s just a matter of at-bats and allowing his athleticism to play on the baseball field. It’s what’s going to take some time.”

Starling, who was a star at Gardner Edgerton High School, carries a slash line of .225/.317/.359 into his game today for Low-A Lexington. He has nine home runs, 50 RBIs, 18 stolen bases and 99 strikeouts in 100 games for the Legends.

The frustrating day-night split continues. In day games, he’s hitting .287/.386/.460 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 24 games. At night, it’s .205/.294/.326 with six homers and 35 RBIs in 76 games.

That’s the main reason Starling had LASIK surgery, because he reportedly was having trouble picking up the spin on the ball in the poorly-lit minor league parks.

After a dismal first two months of the season for Starling, the Royals top pick in the 2011 draft, he improved at the plate a bit in June, but his numbers slid back slightly in July. But Picollo says there’s more to see.

“You can look at the hard stats,” Picollo said, “but we also track quality plate appearances, which is essentially hard-hit balls, pitches seen per at-bat. He can get a plus-at bats in any number of categories, but his quality plate-appearance ratio was 50 percent, and that was during that time when his average climbed up a little bit. His on-base percentage climbed up during that period.”

MLB.com’s Prospect Watch recently listed Starling as No. 45 in the minor leagues, although he slid from a preseason rank of No. 26. The website’s bottom line: it’ll take patience as the multi-sport high school star focuses on baseball alone.

Starling, who is 6 feet 4, 180 pounds, played just 53 games a year ago at Rookie Burlington. So he has just 153 games in the minors under his belt.

And, again, Starling just turned 21 today.

“There’s just going to be some ups and downs with him,” Picollo said. “Really it’s just a matter of staying positive, keep giving him his at-bats and being patient with him and letting him take his course. When you get a guy with that rare set of tools, it’s hard not to get excited when you see him and you think of all the positives that can slip into place.”

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