Bubba was ranked number one among high school prospects in 2011 when he was drafted out of Gardner Edgerton High School in Gardner, KS, when the Royals took him in the first round (5th overall). The kid had a large burden placed on his shoulders the minute the Royals selected him. It had been eight years since the Royals had a winning season and they were in the midst of a 71-91 campaign.
The Royals were also in the process of building their World Series championship team and had drafted Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Christian Colon within the previous four years. There was a lot of weight on the shoulders of Bubba Starling to be successful. He had already committed to play football and baseball for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, as he was one of the highest rated multi-sport athletes in the country at the time.
The Royals drafted him instead of other players like Francisco Lindor (8th overall, career bWAR 25.9), Anthony Rendon (6th overall, career bWAR 23.4) and George Springer (11th overall, career bWAR 21.0) who have all made major impacts with their MLB teams. In fact, 60 players were taken in the first round in 2011 and all but 19 have been in a Major League game. He ended up turning down the football scholarship from Nebraska and signed with the Royals for a then record $7.5 million signing bonus.
The professional career of Bubba did not get off to that great a start. He struggled while making his rise through the organization. He repeated years at Wilmington (Class A) and Northwest Arkansas (Class AA) where his struggles were mighty. Then in 2016 during his worst professional season to date, the Royals decided to give him a fresh start and promoted him to AAA with the Storm Chasers where he continued to struggle. He finished that 2016 season with a slash line of .183/.235/.298 through AA and AAA combined.
When the 2017 AAA season began the 25 year old Bubba Starling was doing so bad that he contemplated quitting baseball all together. He came very, very close when something snapped. He changed his batting stance and adjusted his swing and started to have immediate success. That is until he got bit by the injury bug. On July 9th, 2017, he was placed on the DL with an oblique injury. Then on August 11 he returned to the line up for all of 11 days. His season ended on August 22 when he injured a different part of his oblique muscle while making a throw.
The beginning of 2018 would be no different. He got an invite to Major League Spring Training where he was performing good until he reinjured his oblique muscle again. This time it cost him two months of the AAA season. When he returned to the Storm Chasers line up he played in 11 games slashing .257/.350/.314 when the injury bug bit him again. This time he was at home in Gardner, KS, when he dislocated his left index finger costing him the rest of the 2018 AAA season.
Now we enter the 2019 season and we all pretty much know what has happened. Bubba was finally able to pick up where he was when he began to turn things around in 2017 before the oblique injuries. Bubba had a good Spring Training and has continued to hit the ball well. He is slashing .344/.384/.478 and is among the team leaders in almost all offensive categories. He has put on a clinic in the outfield by making some spectacular catches line this one where he impersonates Superman:
And shows off his arm by getting his 8th outfield assist:
We are finally seeing the potential of what Bubba Starling offers and why he was selected 5th overall in 2011. It has taken a bit to get here but here we are. I gotta say it has been awesome watching Bubba play this year. He has been different this season than in the rest of the time since he has been in AAA. He has looked comfortable and confident. He has been fan friendly at the games I have been at. I have seen him signing autographs and talking with fans where in years past he has shunned them away and ignored them. He has finally lifted that weight off his shoulders and is playing the game for the fun of it for the first time in a long time.
Kansas City is in need of a player like Bubba and not much stands in his way. With the trade deadline creeping up and the trade market about to heat up we could see him roaming the friendly confines of centerfield at the K very soon. The biggest threat to him at this time in the injury bug. If the injury bug stays away Kansas City could be in for a treat.
Photo Credits: Kent Sievers, Omaha World-Herald