What should the Royals do with Bubba Starling?

Bubba Starling is tearing it up in Omaha; does that mean a big-league call up is looming soon?

The Royals are 20-43 entering Saturday’s game against the Chicago White Sox. With the season looking dimmer by the day, the eyes of Royals fans have been glancing toward the minors, looking for hope that help is on the way in the years to come. While some prospects like pitcher Brady Singer and outfielder Khalil Lee are a couple of years away from helping at the Major League level, there is a prospect in Omaha that is doing amazing things, like this below:

Starling has always had tremendous fan fare as a Royals prospect ever since being drafted 5th overall in the 2011 MLB Draft. A local kid from Gardner, Kansas, the 6’4, super athletic Starling signed with the Royals over a football/baseball scholarship at the University of Nebraska thanks to a $7.5 million signing bonus from the Royals, one of the largest in club history.

Prospect experts were quick to anoint Starling as one of the game’s top prospect early, thanks to his superior combination of five-tool talent as well as size and athleticism. Going into 2012, Baseball America ranked him as the 24th best prospect in baseball; Major League Baseball ranked him #12; and Baseball Prospectus ranked him #27. Though his baseball talent was still raw due to his multi-sport background in high school, it was widely expected that Starling would be the center fielder of the future once Lorenzo Cain left Kansas City.

But as expected with raw prospects, things haven’t worked out for Starling. Due to injuries and ineffectiveness, he has only played in 671 games total over his eight year career and as he has yet to play a Major League Baseball game. Furthermore, with a career .244 batting average in the minors, and coming off a 2018 where he only played 20 games, the Royals released him from the 40-man roster in November, making his journey to the show that much harder.

However, after getting re-signed by the Royals shortly after being non-tendered, Starling has tore it up in Omaha: through 191 plate appearances and 49 games in the PCL this year, Starling is posting a slash of .343/.382/.480, an OPS of .862, and has four home runs, 24 RBI and 8 stolen bases. Not only does Starling look healthier than ever, but he looks incredibly comfortable and confident as a baseball player, something that has rarely been seen over his Minor League career.

Thus, the combination of Starling playing his best baseball yet as a professional, and the Royals going through a rebuilding year should be a sign that Starling should make his Royals debut sooner rather than later. However, him not being on the 40-man puts the Royals in a dilemma, as it would mean DFA’ing a player in order to bring up Starling.

That being said, it sounds like the Royals are definitely entertaining the idea of bringing up Starling at some point this season:

Let’s take a look at three things that the Royals could do with Bubba this season.


Keep Bubba in Omaha for remainder of year

The Royals may want to see if Bubba is for real and have him continue to work on some things at the plate in Triple-A. While he is hitting for average, he is the beneficiary of a .406 BABIP and he isn’t hitting for that much power in a hitter’s league, as his ISO is only .137. The Royals may think with no real spot for him at this moment, Starling getting a full, healthy, successful season of professional ball will do him a lot of wonders. He could hone his overall game, build up his power a bit now that he is hitting for average for the first time in his career, and go into Spring Training fully ready and confident. And there would be some merit to such a strategy: it would be awful to see Starling come up to the Majors, struggle, and then lose the confidence he built this year after so many seasons of ineptitude.

Of course, this is the least popular option, and even I as a Royals fans would think the Royals would be wasting Starling’s talents by keeping him in Omaha for the entire 2019 season, especially as the Royals continue to free fall in the standings.


Bring Bubba up…but after the trade deadline (August)

The Royals are not a playoff team. However, teams who are playoff teams will need to boost their rosters to solidify their postseason campaigns. There are a lot of players who could provide value: Billy Hamilton could be a valuable fourth outfielder and pinch runner for a pennant-contender. Whit Merrifield could get traded. The Royals might part ways with Jorge Soler for a team looking for a designated hitter. And through a trade, the Royals could also get some prospects back to help build up their system.

Unfortunately, those kinds of deals probably won’t happen now, with the playoff picture still in a far off haze at this point. The hot stove won’t really build up until July around All-Star time, where the joys of the midsummer classic quickly transition into whispers of the late July trade rumor period. So, the Royals, who may not want to DFA a player of value (like Hamilton or even Gore for example), may want to see if they can make a trade to open up a 40-man spot for Bubba. But as said before, that may not happen until after the Deadline, which would be the first of August at the soonest.


Bring up Bubba now

This seems to be a popular sentiment with Royals nation at this moment. And it makes sense: the Royals are pretty rough to watch, and many feel that Starling may not be worse than many other outfield options as of this moment (the biggest sentiment is that Gore is wasting a roster spot since he hasn’t been as effective on the bases as in seasons past). Furthermore, the breakout of Cheslor Cuthbert is also being used as evidenced that Starling’s Triple-A numbers can somewhat transition to the MLB level (Cuthbert was also killing PCL pitching prior to his callup).

There are a lot of good reasons out their on the Royals internet supporting a call up of Bubba immediately. In fact, Jack S. Johnson of Royals Review said in his post made an excellent case for Starling to be called up ASAP, with this segment below standing out the most in his article:

The point is, worrying about Starling’s durability shouldn’t keep him down in Triple-A where he clearly doesn’t belong any more. Keeping him off the 40-man isn’t much of an excuse either as players such as Lucas Duda, Jorge Bonifacio, Ben Livley, Tim Hill, and Heath Fillmyer all remain on it. Remove one of them and the likelihood they clear waivers and return to the minor leagues is high. Billy Hamilton is going to be traded. There is no and, ifs, or buts about it. It’s all a matter of is it going to be now or one month from now? When a guy like Starling is banging on the door, the front office may have no choice than to act now rather than later. Bubba may not be the spark for this season, but he sure as hell is the best chance to ignite something. 

Jack S. Johnson, “It’s Time to Give Bubba Starling a Shot”

Final thoughts on Bubba Starling

I want Bubba to be sporting a Royals uniform sooner rather than later. And he will get called up at some point this year. The Royals need something to spark their season, and the local press and media attention Bubba would bring with his callup to the Royals would not only generate positive excitement about the club, but would also bring butts to the K, something they need to do desperately in a season where they rank 26th in MLB attendance.

However, I think the Royals can wait a month before calling up Starling. Yes, the Royals can DFA Gore now, and Starling can find a roster spot…but it will be on the bench, and not playing everyday. Starling needs to keep this momentum and keep getting at-bats. Bringing him up without the intent to play him everyday could stunt not just his development as a player, but perhaps his confidence as well, especially if those limited at-bats at the MLB level don’t work out initially.

The big trade the Royals need to make is dealing Hamilton in order to make room for Starling. Once they deal Hamilton, there will be an opening for Bubba to play every day, which will be good for the fans as well as Bubba’s development. He needs to know that a bad stint at the MLB level won’t bury him, but he won’t get that impression if he is only getting 3-4 at-bats a week in a reserve role, which would happen if he replace Gore on the 40-man.

I think the clock is ticking on Hamilton’s time in Kansas City. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear that Dayton Moore is already working on trades involving the speedy outfielder as we speak.

Once Hamilton is gone…”Bubba Time” can begin.

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