Bubba Starling, the No. 5 pick in the 2011 draft, has received a promotion to the Royals’ Class AA affiliate, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. The club informed Starling late on Wednesday evening. He is currently driving from Class A Wilmington to meet his new club in Tulsa, Okla. The team expects him to arrive by Friday, but he is unlikely to play until Sunday or Monday.
An injury to Class AAA outfielder Brett Eibner prompted Starling’s promotion, but assistant general manager J.J. Picollo told The Star on Thursday morning that Starling was likely due for a new assignment in the coming days. Asked to repeat Class A to start 2015, Starling responded with two homers, four doubles and a 1.084 on-base plus slugging percentage in 12 games. Royals officials continue to rave about his defense in center field.
Eibner, a talented but oft-injured prospect, suffered a hamstring strain. The Royals promoted Lane Adams from Northwest Arkansas to take Eibner’s place in Omaha. The departure of Adams created a vacancy in Class AA.
It also quickened a decision the Royals indicated was looming, anyway. Starling has struggled through his first three seasons as a professional. Starling was a three-sport star at Gardner Edgerton High, and turned down a scholarship to play quarterback at the University of Nebraska. The Royals signed him with a franchise record $7.5 million bonus.
Given Starling’s limited baseball experience, Royals officials have repeatedly preached patience with his offensive development. At 22, Starling will still be one of the youngest members of the Naturals roster. But his on-field success has been limited. Starling hit .218 with 150 strikeouts in 132 games for Wilmington last season. The organization reassigned him there in order to boost his confidence and give him familiar footing.
Starling has performed well enough to step up another level. The Royals hope his production follows him.