So, yesterday we learned via Jeffrey Flanagan that the Royals’ plan (i.e. hope) is for Bubba Starling to make his major league debut sometime in 2016 and be a major league regular in 2017. That is somewhat startling news (get it?) given that Bubba has a career minor league line of .245/.329/.403 with a nearly 27% strikeout rate. Without question, the timeline reported by Flanagan is certainly the Royals’ best case scenario. Clubs don’t typically reveal that their plan for player X ‘is to play fair to middling baseball next season, struggle at the next level and be out of the game by 2017’. I still found the above timeline and in particular making it public to be surprising.
Yes, Starling has had a great Arizona Fall League which has featured two rather stunning defensive plays. I don’t believe anyone has any doubts that Starling could be an upper echelon defender at the major league level right now. In fact, he pretty much came out of the womb with a major league caliber glove, that has never been the problem. The problem, as we all know, is that this is player that as recently as last year was described as ‘unable to recognize pitches and constantly late on them when he does’.
As recently as 2014, Starling hit .218/.304/.338 in Wilmington. Now, say all you want about that league and that ballpark and even how poor a statistic batting average is, but .218 is still .218. Bubba followed that up with a .177/.226/.241 in 84 Arizona Fall League appearances. It was dismal.
Minus a waggle in his swing, Starling had more fun in 2015: obliterating High A pitching for two weeks before moving up to AA ball. He was okay in AA (.254/.318/.426) but nothing special frankly. Not anything that would necessarily restore luster to a tarnished former prospect’s star. While raves are coming in this fall, Starling is hitting .274/.330/.440 in the Arizona Fall League with four home runs and five steals.
Nice numbers, right? They are, but Gary Sanchez has 7 home runs, Adam Engel has 10 steals (and is hitting .403). And Starling still has 25 strikeouts in 90 plate appearances. Let’s not bid farewell to Gordon and Zobrist just yet, okay?
That variable is the interesting part of the optimistic organization timeline. It tells me that the Royals are looking at one corner outfield spot and seeing Dyson, Orlando, Jose Martinez, maybe Brett Eibner (speaking of parks, age and batting average, .384 is .384!) and then Starling. It tells me that the organization is thinking Gordon OR Zobrist at one corner outfield spot and going ‘internal’ for the other. They could perhaps add a one year veteran reclamation project for 2016 as well. You know, it worked with Melky Cabrera and sorta, kinda if you squint right also did with Alex Rios.
We could also take the fun scenario here (dollars be damned!) and read the above to mean Gordon resigned to play left, Zobrist resigned to play right in 2016 and then sliding in to play second in 2017 when Bubba Starling arrives and wins a Gold Glove in right. That sounds fun, but sadly unrealistic.
Or course, the more logical analysis is that the comments reported to Flanagan were just talk of what the club sees as an optimistic, but realistic, timeline and has nothing to do with what the Royals do this off-season. Truthfully, that is far closer to reality than anything I just wasted your time with above. That’s okay, in my opinion.
We are not too far removed from the days of targeting the arrival of a Bubba Starling to the big leagues as the START of when the Royals had a chance. Instead, we stand here in mid-November with the Kansas City Royals as your World Champions, back to back World Series participants, with six regulars (seven if you count Infante), four starters, their closer and best set-up man already coming back for 2016.
There have been comments and commentary about what the Royals should do that include ‘not having to rebuild or, flat out suck, in 2018 and 2019’. I read many of those and see how you can get the 2018 Royals to 80 or 82 wins….maybe, but I don’t see how you do it without the 2016 and 2017 Royals sacrificing wins. That logic does not fly with me. I can see, with the right moves and some money, how the Royals could be a playoff team in the next two seasons. Truthfully, they might be as close as Yordano Ventura being a true number one away from another World Series.
Bubba Starling in 2017? Hey, that would be quite a nice bonus, but it should have nothing to do with planning to be a real winner without him.