BLUF: If you can dream it, Starling can become it – both good and bad.
The Player: Bubba Starling (OF, Kansas City Royals) – Taken fifth overall in 2011, Starling signed for a $7.5 million signing bonus and passed up a scholarship to Nebraska, where he was expected to play quarterback. He signed too late to make his official debut in 2011 and didn’t get started until rookie-level Burlington’s season got underway in June, posting a .275/.371/.485 line with eight doubles and ten home runs.
Basis of Report: Compilation – Industry Contacts
Body (6-4, 180): Top of the line athlete. One of the best pure athletes in baseball. Tremendous physicality with exceptional athletic gifts. Truly elite body.
Hit: Would be severely exposed against better pitching right now. Very raw hitter. Struggles to control the barrel of the bat and make consistent contact. Lacks intimate knowledge of the strike zone and must develop pitch recognition skills. Plus-plus bat speed lets the ball travel deep and allows him to use the entire field. Chases breaking balls out of the zone regularly and has a ton of swing-and-miss right now. Ultimate fate of tool could land anywhere from forcing him to wash out to allowing him to develop into a superstar. If you have an accurate guess about the projection of his hit tool, you’re a better man than me. In the end, I don’t think he gets to average as a hitter. Grade – 20/40
Power: Huge raw. Easy plus-plus tool in batting practice but doesn’t always translate to games. Advanced pitchers will stay soft and keep power from playing at all until he learns the zone and improves his discipline. Can drive the ball from line to line. Potential for plus-plus game power with hit tool maturation but more likely to settle with 60 in-game power. Excellent tool that could make him a star if the feel for hitting comes. Grade (raw power) – 70/70
Arm: Big arm for CF. Earns easy plus grades with occasional grades a half tick higher. Shows good accuracy on his throws and gets rid of the ball quickly. Easy plus. Grade – 60/60
Fielding: Gets to a ton of balls because of plus-plus speed. Generally below average despite this. Jumps are often late and routes are adjusted along the way because initial tracking is poor. Very raw defender that needs considerable reps. Has the speed and effort to play at a plus level long term. No question about ability to stay in the middle. Grade – 40/60
Speed: Can fly. Easy plus-plus times home to first and can get from gap to gap with ease. Speed plays well on the bases with surprising instincts, also makes up for mistakes in CF. Athleticism and body type should allow speed to be maintained through physical maturation. Grade – 70/70
Summation: Potential superstar with a long way to go to get there. Raw, speed and arm are no doubt tools that should all play at plus levels, at a minimum. Center field may seem better than it really is right now, but he should get there. Another potential plus tool. Projection all comes down to the bat. Very raw and needs considerable development as a hitter. Swings and misses a lot. Lacks a defined approach, knowledge of the strike zone or consistent pitch recognition skills. Bat speed is evident. Needs to find a way to barrel the ball more consistently. Unlocking tremendous power potential hinges on ability to hit. Even as a .250 hitter, power should play with 20+ home runs, plenty of in-game speed and quality, up the middle defense. He’s a high-end player without full maturation of the hit tool. Give him time to learn. Let the athleticism take over. Huge player if the light bulb goes off. Even if it doesn’t he’s an above-average player.
Relative Risk: High. Huge boom or bust type. Feel for the game lags behind and must catch up for tools to play at the maximum extent. Extreme risk profile.
Future: It is going to be a long developmental road for Starling. His feel for the game is extremely raw and he will need to spend considerable time at each level. The Royals appear poised to send him to Low-A for his full-season debut in 2013. He is unlikely to be on the big league radar until after the 2015 season, and possibly even after the 2016 season.