IT HAS BEEN an excruciating start to the season for Wilmington Blue Rocks center fielder Bubba Starling.
Held to a much higher standard than most Carolina League hitters, Starling was underwhelming during the month of April, looking lost at the plate. He batted .127 with more walks (11) than hits (10) while striking out at a 35.4 percent clip (28 in 79 at-bats).
Tuesday against Salem was Exhibit A in just how different May has been for the Kansas City Royals’ $7.5 million man. He reached base in four of his five plate appearances, doing so in ways that showed off other aspects of his skill set than his raw power.
Starling beat out an infield single in his first at-bat, walked twice and beat out what appeared to be a double-play ball in the fifth inning. He scored a pair of runs, including the first of the game, in what would be a 6-3 victory.
The ground ball Starling beat out to avoid a double play was of particular interest. Starling was promptly picked off by Salem starter Pat Light, but instead of dancing in a rundown, Starling put his head down and sprinted for second, beating the throw from first baseman Mario Martinez.
It was pure speed and a tantalizing taste of just how potent Starling can be if he gets straightened out at the plate.
Perhaps May is the start of that. So far this month, he’s batting .280 (7 of 25) with three doubles and a home run. He scored five times, drove in three runs and his strikeout rate is down slightly (28 percent).
Starling’s uptick comes at a very welcome time for Wilmington, which has struggled mightily to score runs. His warming bat coincides with leadoff man Raul Mondesi’s continued strong hitting and a red-hot Hunter Dozier (we’ll write more about him on Thursday).
Combine that offense with the Blue Rocks’ formidable rotation – two of whom will appear later in this report – and at long last, the Royals’ most-talented farm team appears to be playing the role.
For now, here’s a look at who was hot and who was not during the first week of May:
Reed Gragnani (Salem) – The Red Sox second baseman has hits in nine of his past 10 games and hit .588 this past week (10 of 17) to lift his season average to an even .400. He scored six runs and walked six times.
Randolph Oduber (Potomac) – The Nationals’ outfielder was 8 of 17 (.471) with four doubles and a triple. He scored four runs and drove in three.
Daniel Carroll (Lynchburg) – The new Hillcats outfielder picked up where he left off upon his promotion from Rome (South Atlantic League). After hitting .342 in Rome, Carroll was 5 of 16 (.313) in his first week with Lynchburg. Others have had twice as many hits this week, but none can boast all their hits went for extra bases. Carroll swatted three doubles and two homers as the Hillcats’ cleanup hitter.
Joey Gallo (Myrtle Beach) – Come on, you expected to see this guy here, right? Gallo went 8 of 25 this past week with a triple and a home run. We’ll hear more about him next week’s report as he began the new week with a two-homer outburst against Winston-Salem today (Wednesday).
Christian Binford and Jonathan Dziedzic (Wilmington) – Miguel Almonte arguably is Wilmington’s No. 1 pitcher, but these two are tied for the Carolina League lead with 34 strikeouts. Binford won his lone appearance last week with seven shutout innings. He allowed three hits and no walks while fanning eight. Dziedzic is a textbook example of a “Crash Davis fascist” (strikeouts instead of democratic ground balls). He tossed 4.2 innings in his start before hitting his pitch limit, but he fanned seven before coming out.
Erik Gonzalez (Carolina) – One of the Cleveland Indians’ top prospects mustered just two hits in 20 at-bats this past week, but still is flashing his plus tools. He scored three runs and drew six walks.
Shawn Morimando (Carolina) – Most of the Mudcats’ woes this past week could be traced back to facing the red-hot Blue Rocks. Such was the story for Morimando, one of the Carolina League’s top pitchers. He was tagged for eight runs (three earned) in 3.2 innings in a loss. He allowed five hits, including a home run to Dozier and walked three. On the plus side, he did strike out six.