I could not wait to get a first-hand look at Bubba Starling this spring. I love his tools and I wanted to see him look like the guy that was the fifth overall pick by the Kansas City Royals in a loaded 2011 draft and not the guy that is plummeting down prospect rankings, which is why I waited so long to write his report.
Let me start with the good. Starling absolutely has the tools to be a fantastic ballplayer. He was consistently the best athlete on the field every time I saw him. He has the defensive chops to stick in center, shows a pretty good initial read on the ball, and can make up for those he doesn’t get the best jump on with his above-average speed. Once he gets the ball, he has a cannon of an arm that you would expect from a guy that was one of the top high school quarterback recruits his senior year of high school. When he makes contact, there is real pop in the bat, but that is where the trouble begins.
He has struck out at a higher than 30% rate in his two pro seasons, and has put up a batting average of .252. His on-base percentage is .342, but that can be misleading, as his approach at the plate needs work. I saw him strike out looking too often this spring, and when he did swing at a two strike breaking ball, he typically missed it.
Makeup is the hardest part of a player to measure, and it is even more difficult to judge when you are not around a guy in the dugout and in the clubhouse, but I can understand the questions that have been raised. The way he carried himself on the field will not earn him the title of a leader by example, as he would frequently question a called strike and carry a bad at-bat into the field with him.
One positive I did see was he would place himself near coaches at all times and would discuss previous plate appearances, so I do hold some hope that he is willing to improve in his approach and outward attitude on the field. It is also easy to forget he is still just 22 and will be at High-A this season, so his career has far from peaked.
I don’t see Starling becoming a star, but I also don’t see him flaming out either. His center field defense can carry him as he improves his contact rate and approach at the plate. It would not shock me to see him become an everyday center fielder, but I see him probably fitting better as a fourth outfielder.