Bubba Starling returned to the Omaha Storm Chasers lineup after missing nearly the entire first month of the season on Friday April 28, 2018. He was dealing with an injured oblique coming out of Spring Training, the same injury that sidelined him for parts of the 2017 season, limiting him to only 80 games. The Chasers have been struggling during the early parts of this season and getting Bubba back should provide a little boost for the team. Even with his so far subpar batting average in the minor leagues (.234 over six seasons) his fielding skills are major league ready.
In order to make room for Bubba to return Tyler Collins was released from his minor league contract by the Royals. This was no surprise as Collins had been struggling all season. In 18 games with the Storm Chasers Collins had a .132 batting average, a .242 OBP and a .132 SLG. He had managed to get seven hits and two RBIs in 53 at bats.
Bubba played his first game of the season with the Storm Chasers on the road playing the Colorado Springs Sky Sox on Friday. Bubba had an immediate impact on the team. In his first at bat he walked to lead off the 3rd inning. That was followed up by a walk from Jack Lopez moving him up to second base. Then, Humberto Arteaga put down a sacrifice bunt which ended up scoring Bubba and Lopez after a throwing error by Alec Asher allowing Arteaga to go to second base. In the top of the 4th inning, Bubba came up for the second at bat of the season and hit a single to left field. Unfortunately Arteaga grounded into a force out to end the inning. Top of the 7th inning, Bubba grounded out. Then in the top of the 9th inning he grounded into a double play to end the inning, but the Chasers had scored the tying run on a Ryan O’Hearn home run earlier in the frame. The Sky Sox were unable to score in the bottom of the 9th inning thus forcing the new runner on second in extra innings rule to be used.
Since Bubba was the last batter and the last out of the 9th inning for the Chasers he started out at second base in the top of the 10th inning. Jack Lopez singled to lead off the 10th and a hustling Bubba Starling scored the go ahead run. Lopez would later score for an added insurance run that would end up being the winning run and would send the Storm Chasers to their second win in a row with a score of 6-5. Bubba’s line for the game was 3 At Bats, 2 Runs, 1 Hit, and 1 Walk.
Is it a coincidence that the Storm Chasers won the first game that Bubba returned for? Maybe and Maybe not, but one thing is for sure, a single player returning to the roster have great benefits for the entire team.
This is the year that Bubba Starling either makes or breaks his future with the Royals. This season the Royals have already shown that they are not willing to wait on their older prospects while they continue to take up a spot on the 40-man roster. Earlier in the season Kyle Zimmer and Miguel Almonte were both DFA’d to clear room on the 40 man roster. Both of these players were some of the Royals top prospects at one time who never developed into their full potential with the Royals. Zimmer was later resigned to a minor league deal by the Royals and Miguel Almonte was traded for cash considerations.
Now is the time for Bubba to finally sink or swim. There is a spot in the center field for the Royals waiting for him to claim it. If he has a good month of May it is quite possible that he will be roaming the spacious confines of Kauffman Stadium in June or July. There will be two issues that he faces to make that leap, his health and his bat.
His health, After struggling for the first month in 2017, Bubba starting to put things together and was having a great year when he injured his oblique. The same kind of injury he suffered in Spring Training this year. That injury limited his playing time to only 80 games. He needs to prove that he can stay healthy and avoid the injury bug that he has battled over the last year.
The second is his bat. He has never been a great hitter in the minors and carries a .234 lifetime batting average over his 6 seasons of pro ball. That did not change in 2017 as he struggled to the point of nearly calling it quits on his baseball career. Then he made an adjustment to his batting stance which made all the difference. He was having a great deal of success due to that change and was repairing his season. His power numbers were going up, he even punished a ball on a monster 450 foot home run, his batting average was going up by leaps and bounds, and he was getting on base more overall.
If he can once again have the success at the plate that he was experiencing before the injury last year then this will be a good year for Bubba. He is in control of his future and could either be the Royals centerfielder in the near future or another DFA candidate. I hope it is the year of Bubba Starling, I hope he has great success and becomes the player we have been waiting for him to become.
Photo Credits: Omaha World-Herald