Thoughts on Bubba Starling and other promotion candidates

Bubba Starling has been hitting the ball well all season. He his slashing .355/.396/.488/.883 with a 119 wRC+ through his first 121 AB of the year, and has plenty of fans clamoring for his immediate call-up. Starling’s defense in the outfield has been well documented, and he’s been playing a good bit in CF for the Omaha Storm Chasers. Bubba is hitting, he’s defending, and he’s finally healthy, so why on earth hasn’t the Royals front office promoted him yet?

There are a few things to keep in mind regarding Starling’s offensive performance to begin the year. For starters, of Starling’s 43 hits in 2019, only 9 are XBH. He’s hit 3 HR, a triple, and 5 doubles. That’s not bad per say, it’s just not impressive either. For reference, Starling’s .132 ISO is below that of even Nicky Lopez (.150), who is not known for his power. So if the goal for Starling is to be a contact oriented hitter, here are how Starling and Lopez compare:

  • Lopez: 14.5% BB%, 3.6% K%, .150 ISO, 4.1% SwStr%, .353 BABIP
  • Starling: 7.5% BB%, 19.4% K%, .132 ISO, 11.7% SwStr%, .421 BABIP

I think we all know that Bubba isn’t going to be an offensive All-Star at the big league level anymore. His expectations offensively have plummeted since being drafted, but I fear they may still be a bit too high among Royals fans. Bubba has been great for Omaha this year, but he’s riding an astronomical BABIP that he simply can not sustain in the big leagues, and he’s hitting for little to no power. His plate discipline has been below league average in the PCL, as has his SwStr%.

In a league that’s as dominant offensively as the PCL, what Bubba Starling has done isn’t that surprising. He pulls a ton of ground balls through the 6-hole and if he begins to get shifted at the big league level, his batting average is sure to take a quick turn south.

spray-chart

I’m not saying that Bubba can’t come up and be a serviceable enough 4th outfielder, especially with his elite level of defense. I just hope Royals fans don’t think that Starling has completely mastered the art of hitting and is pounding on the door the same way that Nicky Lopez was. If Bubba Starling remains healthy, we’re going to see him at some point in 2019. I just don’t think he’s quite as good/ready as some seem to think from his scorching hot beginning to the season.

Other promotion candidates:

  • Humberto Arteaga has hit 4 home runs in his past 5 games, and is slashing .404/.429/.681/1.109 with 19 hits in his past 10 games. Much like Bubba Starling, it’s going to be the defense that carries Arteaga to the big leagues, with any offensive contributions counting as a welcomed bonus. Arteaga gets in grooves like this occasionally that give him some potentially legitimate utility value in the future. I wouldn’t expect a call-up any time soon, but we’ll definitely get a look in September.
  • Erick Mejia was terribly disappointing at NWA last season, but has turned that around in a big way to begin 2019. Coming over in the trade for Scott Alexander and Joakim Soria, Mejia figured to provide excellent defensive versatility, just enough offense, and speed on the bases. He stole 34 bases last year at AA, and this year has improved his walk rate to 12.3%, while holding his K% at just 16.7%. He’s played all over the diamond defensively, and I expect that he’ll be the one to get the call if the Royals ever decide to part ways with Chris Owings, due to his ability to play 3B, SS, 2B, LF, CF, and RF, all well.
  • Kyle Zimmer, Tim Hill, Kevin McCarthy, and Josh Staumont have all been serviceable out of the Storm Chaser’s bullpen of late, along with the recently sent-down Jake Newberry. I have no clue which of them would be called upon first, but they could all be up at any minute.
  • Brian Flynn was the “long man” again for Omaha today. He fired 5.2 innings of 1-run ball, walking only 2 and striking out 5. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in the big leagues very soon either.

 

Photo Credits: Minda Haas Kuhlmann

 

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