Last week, a number of chat questions about Kansas City Royals Bubba Starling earned me comparisons to ESPN’s Skip Bayless for statements perceived as outlandish. Yes, Starling was a top-5 overall pick in one of the deepest drafts in recent memory. Yes, he was a two sport athlete with the assumed ceiling of not only a big leaguer, but National Football League quarterback as well. And to complete the trifecta. the young centerfielder was drafted by his hometown team and grew up only a half hour outside of Kansas City. There’s a movie script here. Damn me for ruining the happy ending.
Video after the jump
Going to the park in Greeneville, Tennessee to see Starling in person, I knew little about him other than basic background, current stat line and a few swings from video I’d seen at draft time a year earlier. In having little interest in industry consensus, about the only buzz I knew about Starling this season was that he was 20 and in short season baseball — A prospect red flag.
To compare, Indians Francisco Lindor was taken eighth overall in the 2011 draft and opened the season in full season Single-A ball at 27 months Starling’s junior. In going to the park, my purpose for seeing Starling was to not only see him in action, but to figure out why the organization has yet to take the kid gloves off its prized possession. After a few swings, the answer became obvious. Starling’s swing length and “hitchy” load had the potential for disaster in full season baseball.
From the jump, Starling’s trigger mechanism to achieve hitting position includes a double hand hitch and hip gyration which creates very little actual weight transfer. Yes, timing mechanisms of some sort are needed, but this movement results in very little positive effect on his ability to drive the baseball.
The second issue that is noticeable is Starling locking his pull arm while starting to drift forward at a point where his weight should be back and ready to attack the baseball. Once the pull arm becomes locked, there’s no way to swing without leading with the front shoulder, creating significant swing length. This explains the near semi-circle bat path in the back of his swing.
For me personally, loose hands and hand/wrist speed are the marks of a strong hitter. In the case of Starling, his current mechanical flaws make it impossible to be short and quick to the baseball. If his mechanics don’t allow him to bring the bat knob to the hip and stay inside the baseball, then it’s impossible for me to buy into him as a hitter at this point.
My final major concern is that the video reveals Starling is essentially a single plane hitter. This means he has very little to no ability to actually adjust to a pitch where it’s thrown. In the nine swings captured on video, only the swing at the :26 mark stands out as slightly different from the rest. And even that swing was marked with a “?” by me because it probably could have passed for the same plane, as Starling swung under a fastball.
We can argue small sample size and things of that nature, but there’s also something to be said about prospects being “easy scouts”. As a hitter, Starling qualified as an easy scout. Throw him fastballs on the outer half and mix in the occasional breaking ball and his power is mitigated. Mix in a four-seamer at the letters every so often to keep him honest and he’s not going to hurt you.
Of prospects I’d scouted previously, Starling most resembled Trayce Thompson of the Chicago White Sox — Although if you twisted my arm, I prefer Thompson’s bat a little more. After posting a .241/.329/.457 triple slash line in the South Atlantic League at 20, Thompson, a former 2nd rounder, saw three levels this season finishing the year at Triple-A with improved numbers across the board.
Bubba Starling is likely to reach Kansas City in spite of his offensive flaws. The struggle is connecting the dots between what Starling is at 20 and an impact player at the big league level. Yes, Starling has excellent raw power and the above average athleticism to project as a contributor on defense and the base paths. However, if he strikes out 170 times or more per season and fits the mold of mistake hitter to a tee, then that profile can be found outside the top-5 picks in an entire draft and leaves him on the outside looking in in terms of the top-100 prospects in baseball.