Bubba Starling turned 21 last August. He has played in only 178 games as a professional baseball player, and taken only 730 at-bats. The Royals cannot even determine his timetable for a major-league arrival, general manager Dayton Moore suggested on Monday, until he receives 800 to 1,000 more at-bats. That means two more seasons of evaluation — if Starling can avoid injury and the other pitfalls awaiting young players.
“He’s still a puppy,” Moore said. “He’s very young.”
But a trio of factors make Starling prominent for the fanbase: He grew up in nearby Gardner. He was a three-sport star who turned down a football scholarship to Nebraska. After the Royals picked him fifth in the 2011 draft, Starling received a $7.5 million signing bonus.
Of course, you know all this. But Moore would like the fans to remember the team placed a long-term bet on Starling, one they don’t expect to cash in on any time soon. He will begin this season in Class A Wilmington in the Carolina League. In the lower-level South Atlantic League in 2013, Starling batted .241 with 13 homers, 21 doubles and a .727 OPS. He struck out in more than 25 percent of his at-bats.
The Royals understood this might happen. Starling did not play the game full-time in high school. A hitter can only rise to his level of competition, Moore explained.
But Starling’s profile around the game has taken a hit. In 2012, Baseball Prospectus ranked him No. 27 among the game’s top 101 prospects. In 2013, he fell to No. 49. This year, he was not on the list.
For now, Moore indicated the club has little worry about Starling as a defender.
“He can play center field as good as anybody in the game, right now, today,” he said.
In that vein, Moore threw out an interesting name as comparison.
“What, did Torii Hunter spend six years in the minor leagues?”
Indeed. Hunter rose through the Minnesota system during that amount of time. He also made his professional debut at 17. Starling played his rookie season as a 19-year-old. He is still several years away. But the Royals front office has yet to lose confidence in him.
“He’s going to have to go through a lot of the challenges, and face some good pitching,” Moore said. “We’ll have a better feel for Bubba’s timeline after about 800 to 1,000 more at-bats.”