Judging the Royals

Lee Judge: Bubba Starling and top-five draft picks


Back in 2011 the Kansas City Royals selected Bubba Starling with the fifth overall pick of the draft. On Friday the Kansas City Royals optioned Bubba Starling to Omaha where he’ll once again play minor league ball.

And that reminded me of a story.

One day a bunch of us were talking about the Royals and someone brought up Bubba. They pointed out the Royals’ lack of success with some of their draft picks and I said that sounded like an argument against tanking.

(Just in case you haven’t heard: tanking is losing intentionally in order to get a higher draft pick.)

After I made my anti-tanking comment someone said it was hard to screw up a top-five draft pick and I wondered if that was really true, so I went back and took a look.

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The top five picks from a decade of drafting

Here’s a list of the top-five picks in the 2001 to 2010 drafts. I picked that time span because it gave the players six years to show what they could – or in some cases couldn’t – do. The information comes from Baseball Reference.


1.) Joe Mauer

2.) Mark Prior

3.) Dewon Brazelton

4.) Gavin Floyd

5.) Mark Teixeira


1.) Bryan Bullington

2.) Melvin Upton Jr.

3.) Chris Gruler

4.) Adam Loewen

5.) Clint Everts


1.) Delmon Young

2.) Rickie Weeks

3.) Kyle Sleeth

4.) Tim Stauffer

5.) Chris Lubanski


1.) Matt Bush

2.) Justin Verlander

3.) Philip Humber

4.) Jeff Niemann

5.) Mark Rogers


1.) Justin Upton

2.) Alex Gordon

3.) Jeff Clement

4.) Ryan Zimmerman

5.) Ryan Braun


1.) Luke Hochevar

2.) Greg Reynolds

3.) Evan Longoria

4.) Brad Lincoln

5.) Brandon Morrow


1.) David Price

2.) Mike Moustakas

3.) Josh Vitters

4.) Daniel Moskos

5.) Matt Wieters


1.) Tim Beckham

2.) Pedro Alvarez

3.) Eric Hosmer

4.) Brian Matusz

5.) Buster Posey


1.) Stephen Strasburg

2.) Dustin Ackley

3.) Donavan Tate

4.) Tony Sanchez

5.) Matt Hobgood


1.) Bryce Harper

2.) Jameson Taillon

3.) Manny Machado

4.) Christian Colon

5.) Drew Pomeranz

I think what this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt is that I have way too much time on my hands.

But it’s also pretty clear that even with a top-five pick the draft can be a crapshoot; there are some terrific big league players on that list, but there also players who never made it out of the minors and players who made it to the big leagues, but didn’t have much impact once they got there.

Bubba Starling is not unique.

So why is Bubba taking so long?

Bubba was drafted in 2011 and will start 2017 in the minors; Eric Hosmer was drafted in 2008, but made it to the big leagues in 2011. So why did Hosmer advance quickly while Starling is taking a long time?

I wrote about this once already, but if you missed it here it is again.

I asked Royals coach Rusty Kuntz about Starling and here’s what he had to say: Eric Hosmer played high school ball in Florida and played a lot of games with some of the best amateurs in the country. Rusty said Hosmer was facing 90 mph fastballs before he ever left high school.

Bubba played his high school ball in Kansas and played more than one sport. So Bubba didn’t play as many games as Hosmer and when Bubba did play, didn’t face the same level of competition. Bubba has had more to learn in the minors than Hosmer did, but Rusty thinks Bubba will eventually get his shot.

At this point some people think Bubba Starling is a disappointment, but the final chapter in the Bubba Starling story has yet to be written.