You may have already heard that Bubba Starling, the pride of Gardner, Kansas, is finally bringing his talents to Kansas City. Royals Farm Report couldn’t be more excited for Bubba! Despite the ups and downs of injuries, poor performance, and the pressure of being the 5th overall pick in the 2011 draft, Bubba Starling is finally a Kansas City Royals big leaguer.
Bubba’s call up reminds me of a sentence in Dayton Moore’s book More than a Season: Building a Championship Culture where GMDM discusses his continued belief in Alex Gordon with something he had learned as a scout. “I learned as an area scout that you stick with the tools. Alex had power, the ability to hit for average, a strong arm, and was a very good base runner.” You can mostly exchange the name Alex with Bubba in that sentence. The obvious difference is that Bubba was drafted out of high school and much more “raw” than Alex Gordon, but Bubba has always had extremely loud tools.
If there are lessons to be learned from watching Bubba Starling’s development in the minor leagues, they are 1) always bet on tools, even when a player looks hopelessly lost; and 2) ultimately, players develop and mature on their own timeline.
Arm – Still Elite
Bubba has a legit 70 grade arm, which in scout parlance is a “plus” tool. There’s average (50 grade), above average (60 grade), and then there’s special, which is Bubba’s right arm. The closest comparison would be peak defensive Alcides Escobar’s right arm. Another way to think of Bubba’s arm, for you stat nerds out there, is that his arm is two standard deviations better than an average major league outfield arm.
Defender – Still 70+
Bubba’s tools allow him to be a plus defender in CF. For years we have heard scouts and the Royals’ front office preach that Bubba might be the best CF in the organization (and that was when some guy named Lorenzo Cain roamed Kauffman). If you have seen Bubba play CF, you’d agree. He gets great jumps, has above average speed, and takes solid routes to the ball. He can make all the plays and has that special right arm too.
Speed/Baserunning – 60
Bubba still has speed. His baserunning speed is around 60 grade, but it jumps a grade on defense. While he won’t steal 30-50 bases, his speed will still impact the game, as he could easily steal 15 bases in a full season.
Power – 40
Bubba also has at least 60 grade batting practice power. Also, the longest home run I’ve witnessed at Arvest Ballpark was hit by Bubba. The issue with Bubba has always been translating that power consistently to live game conditions. There’s enough history to suggest that this power won’t fully translate, but he could potentially hit 8-12 homers on average each season.
Hitting – 40
Out of high school, many had Bubba as a 60 grade hitter, which using Kiley McDaniel/Fangraphs context would be a .280 big league hitter. In 2019, with eight years of hindsight, the reality is Bubba is likely a 40 grade hitter, which puts him at a .240 average in the bigs. Considering his other tools, however, Bubba will still be a valuable, vital piece of the equation that can positively impact a game.
So what does all of this mean? It means that Bubba Starling is a player you don’t give up on until he is ready to stop playing. The tools are still loud, and while his hit tool will likely hold Starling back from being the generational stud some thought he might be, he could still be a valuable player on a big league roster.
Photo Credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann (@minda33)