5th Overall: Royals Select OF Derek “Bubba” Starling

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The legend of Bubba Starling is hard to ignore, but make no mistake, he was legitimately the most talented and athletic player in this year’s draft class. Because I believe you always draft the best talent available, the Kansas City Royals did the right thing when they used their first round pick on the Gardner-Edgerton High School product. A local product, Starling is arguably the best prospect to ever come out of the state of Kansas.

The Royals selection of Starling was like a dream come true for me. In 2009 I wanted them to select RHP Shelby Miller, instead of Aaron Crow, 12th overall. In 2010 I wanted Kansas City to select RHP Chris Sale 4th overall instead of Christian Colon. Finally in 2011, they finally took the player I was hoping for. Even if I had been picking 1st overall, Starling would have been my choice.

The Stuff:

At 6’5″ and around 200 lbs (his weight fluctuates greatly depending on the source), Starling is a legitimate 5-tool talent with an incredibly high ceiling. Since he was also a standout in basketball and football, he is still a work in progress as a baseball player and is still learning to tap into his potential. All the tools are there but what strikes me most about Starling are his instincts. Despite not focusing on the game of baseball, he has natural instincts at the plate, on the base paths and in the field. Added to his plus instincts are his exceptional character and work ethic which makes him a bit of a rarity. Not only does he has superstar talent, he has the intangibles to make his tools play up.

That’s not to say there isn’t some risk here. As with all multiple-sport stars there is no guarantee that he will be able to maximize his potential and turn his tools into results. The power, speed, defense and throwing arm are all readily apparent but since he hasn’t focused on baseball, his hit tool is lagging behind the other tools. That’s understandable since hitting a baseball is much more about the art of hitting and swing mechanics than it is about relying on natural ability. Admittedly, he hasn’t been playing against the best of competition while in high school and that will play a role in his learning curve, but it shouldn’t be a significant factor in his development.

As a local kid, drafted in the first round by the local professional team, Starling is going to be under a great deal of pressure to succeed and live up to expectations. Thankfully this is 2011 and not 2005. Bubba doesn’t have to be a franchise savior like Alex Gordon was expected to be. With Eric Hosmer, Danny Duffy, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and others already up with the major league team, and with Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain not far behind, the Royals can afford to be patient with Starling. Instead of having to be the guy to turn it around, he can be groomed to be a part of the “second wave” of prospects the team will need if they are to continue to improve and find success.

The Future:

Some scouts look at him and see a player similar to Drew Stubbs, others look at the tools and upside and see shades of Josh Hamilton. Others believe he will follow in the footsteps of Angels mega-prospect Mike Trout. No offense to Stubbs – who is a fine player in his own right – Hamilton or Trout, but I believe Bubba Starling is the next … Bubba Starling. He has a chance to one day become the great major league player that other 5-tool OF draft picks get compared to and that is the type of talent you just don’t pass up.

Now that he’s been drafted, the elephant in the room is whether or not Kansas City can sign him to a contract. Will he sign to play professionally or will he head to Lincoln to play football and baseball for the University of Nebraska? Personally I think this question gets a little overblown but I’m sure that isn’t going to stop Royals fans from speculating or agonizing over it in the coming weeks.

Why is this overblown? First and foremost, as a two-sport athlete, Starling’s signing bonus can be spread out over a 5-year period under a provision in the major league rules. That means that even if it takes an offer of $10 million to get the deal done, the financial impact to the ball club on a yearly basis will be minimized. Second, the Kansas City Royals have been aggressive when it comes to acquiring amateur talent. They have not shied away from spending and overpaying in the draft or internationally. They know better than any other organization what it is going to take to keep Starling from playing in college.

Bubba is advised by Scott Boras, but Dayton Moore has shown a willingness and ability to successfully work with Boras in the past. Unlike a lot of teams the Royals have developed a working relationship with the Boras Corporation which will also work in their favor. Both sides are familiar with each other and that makes it a lot easier to reach an agreement. Finally the Kansas City Royals have managed to sign every one of their top draft picks in the Dayton Moore era. Jason Esposito, their 7th round selection in the 2008 draft, is the team’s highest unsigned pick in the last 4 draft classes. So, going by recent precedent they question shouldn’t be will the Royals sign Starling, but when will they sign him.

When he does ink a contract with the Kansas City Royals, Starling will give the organization another impact player in an already rich and talent laden farm system. It may take him a while to hone his skills and reach the majors leagues, and he may struggle as he makes his initial transition to professional baseball, but I have little doubt that he will be worth the wait.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on Bubba Starling and the Kansas City Royals as a whole, take a moment to check out Kings of Kauffman.