The Royals announced Thursday that they will select the contract of outfielder Bubba Starling prior to tomorrow’s game. A corresponding 40-man roster move will be announced tomorrow.
Starling, 27 next month, was the fifth overall draft pick by the Royals back in 2011. The Kansas native instantly became one of baseball’s top overall prospects, landing within the top 50 on the rankings of Baseball America, MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus in both 2012 and 2013. Starling’s prospect status dwindled as the former high school superstar struggled to perform up to expectations even in the lower minors.
At one point, Starling nearly walked away from the game entirely, as the Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger chronicled back in an excellent 2017 column. Starling, however, persevered through his lowest points in the game and will now be rewarded with his first call to the big leagues. After spending parts of three seasons scuffling in Triple-A, Starling has put together a much more palatable .310/.358/.448 slash with seven homers, 11 doubles, two triples and nine steals (in 12 attempts) through 285 plate appearances so far in 2019.
For the rebuilding Royals, there’s little reason not to take a look at Starling as they take a long-term approach to building out their roster. Kansas City has given significant roles to Hunter Dozier, Adalberto Mondesi and Nicky Lopez, with varying levels of success, as they seek to determine who can realistically be a part of the team’s next core of contending players. Both Dozier and Mondesi have resoundingly indicated that they can be part of the solution, and Starling will look to follow Dozier and Whit Merrifield in cementing himself as a late-blooming big league regular.
It shouldn’t be all that hard to find at-bats for Starling in a questionable outfield mix that has thus far received minimal contribution from offseason signee Billy Hamilton and the returning Terrance Gore. Alex Gordon has appeared resurgent in left field, while Merrifield has handled the outfield well after moving there to accommodate the now-struggling Lopez at second base. Hamilton, who had turned in a miserable .217/.284/.271 line and is a free agent at season’s end, seems to be in the most danger of losing significant playing time with Starling now in the fold. Carrying both him and Gore in reserve roles hardly seems an optimal roster construction, though Kansas City has also received negative production from veteran first baseman Lucas Duda, who has hit at an awful .157/.245/.292 pace through 102 plate appearances.
The Royals already jettisoned one underperforming veteran pickup when they released Chris Owings earlier in the year, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team continue to create room for more intriguing minor leaguers as the second half of the season progresses. Beyond Hamilton and Duda, the Royals have received 90 marginal innings from Homer Bailey, who could be flipped to another team for a nominal return. Lefty Jake Diekman’s bottom-line results have slipped of late, but a lefty reliever averaging 13.1 K/9 and nearly 96 mph on his heater will hold appeal to other teams on the trade market, even if the return won’t be particularly strong.