Read Scout.com National Baseball Expert Frankie Piliere’s scouting report on Starling here
“We got the player we wanted,” said Royals scouting director Lonnie Goldberg during a press conference at Kaufmann Stadium. “We got the most electric athlete and player in the draft. He just happened to be in our backyard as well.”
Indeed, Kansas City sports fans have long been familiar with the legend of Bubba Starling. On the football field, the blue chip quarterback earned both Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year honors and a scholarship to the University of Nebraska while rushing for 2,417 yards and 31 touchdowns for the Trailblazers last season. He was also a standout basketball player, and of course, this year Starling’s five-tool baseball talent was recognized universally as among the best in the nation.
“This player, without a doubt, is one of the more special athletes that plays our game. You don’t see athletes like this playing baseball, and his instincts combined with his athleticism are special,” said Royals general manager Dayton Moore. “We weren’t sure he was going to get to us.”
With such a deep draft this season, nobody was sure how the first round would unfold, especially when the Seattle Mariners surprised everyone by selecting Virginia southpaw Danny Hultzen with the second overall pick. In fact, the first four players selected were all pitchers, making Starling the first position player taken in this year’s draft.
“We got the player that we felt was the most impact position player in the draft and is going to be the guy that helps us win here in Kansas City when he arrives,” said Moore.
Starling, who hosted a conference call with Kansas City media on Monday, seemed happy to be selected by his hometown team.
“I was really excited,” he said of the news. “I was definitely a Royals fan growing up, especially because I’m so close to the stadium – about 30 minutes away.”
Because the Kansas City region doesn’t generally produce the same level of talent as many of the southern hotbeds like Florida, Texas, and California, there was naturally some concern about the level of competition Starling faced during his stellar high school career. However, the 18-year-old outfielder has been a regular on the showcase circuit, and he stood out among some of the top talent in the nation.
Last summer, Starling played for the 18-and-under Team USA in the 2010 IBAF World Junior “AAA” Baseball Championships. In 19 games against some of the world’s best amateurs, he hit .339/.474/.532 with three home runs and 12 RBIs.
“When he first started out, there was an outside shot he wasn’t going to make that club,” said Goldberg. “You could see him progressively get better and better as he saw pitching and he kept getting out there.
“So he gradually worked his way in to fit in, and by the end of the year he was batting fourth or fifth in their lineup and playing center field every day for that club. I can’t imagine what he’ll be able to do once he gets in uniform with us and he’s on a daily regimen playing baseball.”
Of course, getting him into that uniform could be a challenge. Starling is being advised by superagent Scott Boras, and he has a strong commitment to Nebraska, where he will be able to play both football and baseball. When asked about his intentions, Starling refused to speculate on whether or not he would sign with the Royals.
“There’s a lot of options for the future,” he said. “I’ve still got a lot of stuff to figure out. Right now I’m just trying to enjoy my moment with my family and just have fun tonight.”
Moore assured fans the Royals believe they will sign him.
“We feel very confident that we’re going to sign our players,” he said. “Every player that we select, especially early on, we expect to sign. Obviously, each negotiation has its own set of circumstances, and they’re a little unique. Especially in this case, because he’s a dual-sport type athlete, but we’re confident.”
The signing deadline for players drafted this year is August 15, and the reporting date for Nebraska football players is July 10. While the negotiations with could drag on up to either of those dates, Starling had his mind on other things on Monday.
“I’m trying to enjoy the moment tonight. It’s just a special time. Not many kids get drafted in the first round or get a chance to have this opportunity.”