Starling’s Journey Not Done Yet

Credit: Rob Tringali/Getty Images

It all seemed poetic at the time. When Bubba Starling was drafted by the Kansas City Royals as the 5th pick overall in the 2011 MLB Draft, it felt like a story that writers dream about covering. Here was Starling, a graduate of Gardner Edgerton High School in Gardner, Kansas, just outside of Kansas City. Hometown boy drafted by the team he grew up cheering for, right? It was a narrative we all dream of.

The problem is that sometimes life doesn’t play out the way a novel or a script might. Sometimes reality is a bit of a bitter pill, a splash of cold water on the dreamer’s expectations. The hope was that Starling would roam the spacious outfield at Kauffman Stadium, running down fly balls to the adulation of his family and friends. Reality hasn’t been nearly as glossy.

After seven years of wandering in the Kansas City farm system, Starling was non-tendered a contract at the end of November. The belief at the time was that Starling would re-sign with the Royals, this time to a minor league deal. As expected, Starling returned to the organization earlier this week:

So while reality has been less than ideal, the dream for Starling is still technically alive. But as he gets ready for his age 26 season, we have to wonder if the big leagues is still in the cards for Bubba.

Credit: Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports

Most of us are aware of the issues Starling has dealt with, as injuries and offensive struggles have derailed his arrival to Kansas City. Over seven minor league seasons, he has hit a combined .236/.312/.386 over close to 2500 plate appearances. Starling looked to be finally breaking through over the summer of 2017, as he hit .290/.327/.435 from the beginning of May through July 9th. But then an oblique injury sidelined him until August 11; a week later, the oblique knocked him out for the rest of the season.

With Lorenzo Cain gone, center field seemed attainable for Bubba in 2018 if he could get back on track. Unfortunately, the oblique injury lingered, and was then followed by a dislocated left index finger. When it was all said and done, Starling made only 66 plate appearances last year, hitting .296/.415/.611, playing in the rookie league and AAA.   

So now that he is banished from the 40-man roster and on a minor league deal, is there still some upside in Bubba? The truth is that while things might look bleak, the release might have been just what he needed. Expectations have never been lower and I’m sure some will even forget he is still around.

But…if he stays healthy and continues to hit like he did in 2017, we could see Starling in the big leagues. His glove has been major league ready for years and is the true selling point of his talent. Just ask our friends over at Royals Farm Report: 


 The great thing about him too is that, he doesn’t need to hit .300 to be a productive MLB center fielder. Bubba is so good defensively that all he he’d need to do is be an AVERAGE hitter and his defense will actually give him some decent value in the big leagues.

If Bubba can even produce at a level close to his 2015 season in AA (where he produced a wRC+ of 105 in 367 plate appearances) then he would be worthy of a big league spot.

You might be asking yourself “but isn’t the Royals outfield crowded right now?” and the answer to that is ‘yes’. With Alex Gordon in left field, Jorge Bonifacio and Jorge Soler in right, and Billy Hamilton, Brian Goodwin and Brett Phillips in center field, that is six possible outfielders at a loaded position (think clowns piling into a small car). Throw in Whit Merrifield, Chris Owings, Ryan O’Hearn and Hunter Dozier as players who have played out there before, and you have very little room for Starling. Which is why the issue would need to be pressed.

The deck is stacked against him. While there are players who have blossomed after their age 26 seasons (Hi, Whit), every day makes it less and less likely to happen. An argument could even be made that maybe he would be better served to go to a different organization, one without the pressure of being a 1st round draft pick and a hometown kid.

So there is a scenario where Bubba makes it to the big leagues. If he stays healthy, hits just a little bit and the Royals need help in the outfield, he could get the call. That’s a lot of blocks to fall into place, but it could happen.

Look, the expectations of being a top five draft pick are always lofty and on average those expectations are rarely met. In some ways, Starling was doomed from the moment Kansas City drafted him all those years ago. The pressure of living up to the hype is something I do not wish onto anyone, let alone a kid from the Royals backyard.   

Credit: Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

So let the dreamers still dream, because as long as he has a contract there is a chance. We can even hope that the stars align and he reaches a few goals that were tossed his way seven years ago. Maybe if the Royals hadn’t felt like they “missed” on Albert Pujols they wouldn’t have felt inclined to draft Bubba.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe the Royals drafted out of fear. Or maybe he fit what they look for in a baseball player: athletic, toolsy and fast, with good defense. In many ways, Bubba Starling is the blueprint of what the Royals want their players to be. The bad news is that this story has been a disappointment to this point. But the good news is that there is still time for a few more chapters to be written as well.  

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And the Winner is…

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The 2014 Major League Baseball season has come to an end, which also means that all ballots have been turned in to decide the winners in the awards to be announced this week. I was fortunate to turn in my first ballot as a member of the IBWAA, the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, this year and realized a few things. One, this isn’t as easy as one thinks it is. I spent a lot of time thinking about who I really felt should win these awards and who truly should be honored. I also realized that it is MY vote, and though I am positive some will disagree with it, it is just one man’s opinion. I also should stress this: I turned in my ballot about two weeks before the end of the season. In hindsight, I probably should have waited, but that is a lesson learned and will prepare better for 2015. So without any further ado, here are my winners for the 2014 season…

American League MVP: Alex Gordon, Kansas City

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We can probably all agree that Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels had the best numbers for a player in the American League this year. I don’t argue that, nor am I trying to take that away from him. But my vote was based more on who was more valuable to his team this year in the league, and in my opinion that man is Alex Gordon. Not too long ago I made Gordon’s case for MVP, as I felt he shouldn’t be overlooked when it came time for the voting. I know I am a bit biased, if for no other reason than the fact that I watch the large majority of Royals games during the season. The thing about Gordon is his numbers don’t tell the whole story; he is the leader of this Royals team in so many facets of the game. Obviously his defense is of another caliber, as most know. His WAR numbers get a nice bump from his defensive metrics, as he finished the year 7th in the AL in bWAR with 6.6 and 5th in fWAR with 6.1. You could also add in the 27 defensive runs he saved this year on defense, 1st in the league with Josh Donaldson far behind in 2nd place with 20 DRS. Gordon is also an excellent base runner, and was most valuable when the Royals needed him to be. Gordon basically carried the team on his back in August, a month where the Royals made one of their biggest pushes for a playoff spot. Gordon had a slash line of .292/.356/.585 with 9 home runs and 16 RBI’s. Alex was what the Royals needed when they needed it this year to help propel them to the playoffs. This Royals team doesn’t go on the run they went on in the playoffs if not for Gordon being a leader during the regular season. In fact, without him this Royals team doesn’t even get to October. For that, my most valuable player vote goes to Alex Gordon.

National League MVP & Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles

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What else can be said about Clayton Kershaw’s season that hasn’t already been said? Kershaw had a season for the ages, one that was so good that the comparison’s toward all-time great Sandy Koufax don’t really feel far-fetched anymore. Kershaw lead the league in Wins(if you like that sort of thing), Win-Loss Percentage, ERA, Complete Games, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, Strikeouts per 9 inn., Strikeout to Walk Ratio and was an All-Star as well. Oh, and he threw his first career no-hitter, a game so dominant that only one other pitcher(Kerry Wood) has thrown a better game, and that was just a piddly 20-strikeout game. All this while missing the entire month of April(after throwing the season opener in Australia)! Kershaw was so dominate this season that I also felt like he was the MVP of the National League, which some folks in baseball(hello, Tommy Lasorda) feel a pitcher shouldn’t win the award for Most Valuable Player. But when a pitcher has a season like this (and no other major candidate really sticks out) it throws that pitcher into the MVP conversation. I had seriously considered both Andrew McCutchen of Pittsburgh and Giancarlo Stanton of Miami for the award, but alas I felt Kershaw was more valuable to the Dodgers success than either of those two were for their teams. Kershaw winning MVP isn’t like Willie Hernandez winning American League MVP back in 1984; Kershaw is not only an elite pitcher at the moment but if he continues on the path he is going he could be an all-time great. So as preposterous as some believe a pitcher winning MVP is, just remember it in the proper context; Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball and it isn’t even close.

American League Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle  

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Out of all the votes I had to place, this was easily the toughest decision to make. It came down to Hernandez and Corey Kluber of Cleveland and honestly, a pick either way didn’t feel like a bad one. As someone who watches close to every Royals game during the season I had seen Kluber several times and saw just how dominant he was for the Indians this year and in some ways that almost swayed my vote. Obviously in a close vote you compare numbers and once again, they were pretty damn even. David Schoenfield goes into great detail about just how close this race was and why really neither pitcher was a bad choice. My only hope is no one voted for Kluber just based off of win totals; that would just seem silly. I think the biggest argument for Hernandez(at least in my eyes) was his streak of 16 starts of at least 7 innings giving up 2 runs or less which he held this year until August 17th. The previous mark was set all the way back in 1971 by Tom Seaver as he set the mark of 13 starts. In this day in age, where most starters have a rough time going more than 6 innings a start and where teams employ lockdown bullpens as part of their strategy, the fact a starting pitcher could accomplish this feat is borderline amazing. The fact that Hernandez was able to accomplish this really swayed my vote and was enough to warrant his second Cy Young award. The real point of this is that if I would have gone with Kluber it wouldn’t have been a bad choice either; there was no bad choices. Just two pitchers who had excellent seasons and both deserved consideration for this award.

American League Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu, Chicago   

Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox

This was about as easy a choice as possible. From almost day one Abreu showed he was the real deal, which is never a certainty with any talent from Cuba. But Abreu made sure it was known early he was as advertised, hitting 29 home runs, a slash line of .292/.342/.630 and an sOPS+ of 169 in the first half of the season. His power numbers went down in the second half, hitting only 7 home runs while producing a slugging percentage of .513 and raising his batting average and sOPS+. I’m sure the longer season wore on Abreu, but all in all he put in a rookie season that should be praised for years to come. It’s a bit unfortunate that Abreu ran away with this award, as the American League put together a nice crop of rookies in 2014, from New York Yankees Masahiro Tanaka and Dellin Bettances to Kansas City’s flame-throwing hurler Yordano Ventura. All had really solid opening campaigns but none matched Abreu who should be a solid bat in Chicago’s batting order for years to come.

National League Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati

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This race was much closer than it’s AL counterpart, as it came down to New York Mets pitcher Jacob DeGrom and Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton. Honestly, an argument for either rookie is valid and a part of me almost voted for DeGrom. But I liked all the different area’s of the game that Hamilton helped the Reds this year. Everyone knows of Hamilton’s speed, he of the 56 steals this year. But he also produced 200 total bases only grounded into 1 double play this year and 39 extra bases. There was a small downside to his year; Hamilton struck out a ridiculous amount for a top of the order guy, 117 times, and was caught stealing 23 times. Both of these facets will need to be improved upon in 2015 for him elevate his game. Defensively Hamilton was more than solid; 14 defensive runs saved in 2014, 10 assists and an 1.8 dWAR. Overall a more than solid rookie campaign for Billy Hamilton(and likewise for DeGrom) and for the Reds sake(especially if they want to contend in 2015) hopefully he can grow on it.

American League Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin, Oakland 

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I mentioned earlier that I should have waited and locked in my votes during the last week of the season and this selection is a big reason why. Do I think Bob Melvin did a fabulous job managing the A’s in 2014? Of course. This was a team that was one of the elite in baseball for a large chunk of the season, a team of no superstars, compiled together and platooned–yet they still reached the playoffs. But just barely and Oakland’s second half collapse almost cost them that postseason spot, one they didn’t clinch until the last weekend and left them in Kansas City for the one game “battle to the death” Wild Card game. For that reason I feel like I should have waited to vote, as Buck Showalter deserved high praise for this honor and very well might have been my vote. Hell, throw Mike Scioscia’s hat into this argument as well, as the Angels came from behind to not only win the American League West but put together the best record in the league. Lesson learned by me, but I still think Melvin should get a ton of credit. No way does Oakland even sniff the playoffs if an average manager is in charge of this team. Melvin maneuvered and coddled this roster and got top notch performance out of his team. Something has to be said for being able to get the most out of the talent you have, especially when your talent doesn’t always match up with the best teams in baseball.

National League Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh 

MLB: NL Wild Card-Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates

The easy thing is to say Hurdle deserved this honor more in 2013. That year he guided Pittsburgh to their first playoff spot in over 20 years and helped the Pirates slay some demons. But for all the love Hurdle got in 2013, he deserves even more for his managerial work in 2014. Hurdle helped the Pirates reach the playoffs again this past season and did it without their ace from 2013(A.J. Burnett), their closer fizzled out and was eventually traded(Jason Grilli), they lost their star(Andrew McCutchen) for a few weeks and lost their future ace(Gerrit Cole) multiple times to the disabled list. Despite all of this the Pirates made back to back appearances into the postseason and although that only lasted one game(thanks to Brandon Crawford and Madison Bumgarner) it just showed the great job Hurdle did as manager this season. Honorable mention should go out to both Matt Williams of Washington and Mike Redmond of Miami. Both did a great job with their team this past year and that was not lost on me. It just felt like Hurdle accomplished the insurmountable and continued to show that he has been one of the best Pittsburgh acquisitions the last few years.

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So there you go, my picks for the 2014 IBWAA end of season awards. This was a great learning experience and makes me even more pumped for my next ballot, the upcoming Hall of Fame vote. Voting seems like an easy chore from the outside looking in, yet there is a decent amount of pressure if you take them seriously. I have a feeling that the next vote will go a bit smoother. The great thing about the voting process is that they inspire endless debate. One man’s vote is another man’s worst nightmare…that was mainly meant for anyone who voted Ned Yost ‘Manager of the Year’. So you might not agree with my vote’s, just know that can go both ways. It is all just a matter of opinion at the end of the day.

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