What Starling Means To KC

Already rated number one in baseball, the Royals’ minor league machine just got a jolt of electricity.

By selecting Bubba Starling, the Royals energized their fan base in two ways. To one of the few positions where they lack depth and talent on the farm, the Royals can add a player with seemingly limitless physical talent. And they can add to their system a hometown hero.

No, make that a hometown legend.

Though he’s from the suburbs on the Kansas side, Starling’s exploits have been well documented and popularized in KC for several years. A multi-sport star with a small-town persona, Starling takes the popularity of Alex Gordon and Aaron Crow to another level.

Gordon and Crow were both from the general region and grew up Royals fans. But they both gained their fame on college ball fields miles from KC. Starling, on the other hand, is one of the greatest high school athletes in the history of Kansas City.

I was ecstatic about the choice for several reasons.

Not only might it add the most talented position player in the draft to the Royals’ already stocked farm system, but it might deny the Nebraska Cornhuskers their prize quarterback recruit.

If Starling should decide to sign with the Royals, he’ll need to do it before Aug. 15. But he will first need to decide whether or not he will report to NU for summer workouts on July 10. The Royals seem confident they can sign Starling, but fans should prepare for tense negations.

Should they lose Starling, the Cornhuskers can consider it an exit-fee for leaving the Big 12.

But the drafting of Starling means several other things as well.

1) The Royals aren’t scared of Scott Boras anymore.

In the 1990s, the Royals were accused of drafting players based more on sign-ability than on top-tier talent. Then in the early 2000s, the Royals had famous standoffs with the ruthless Boras over Johnny Damon and Carlos Beltran. It seemed the Royals just didn’t have the guts to duke it out for the best players, be they already on the team, or in the draft.

But with Boras clients like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer in the fold, the Royals have shown they are willing to deal. The team doesn’t seem scared off by the big signing bonus Starling will command, nor by the NU scholarship in his back pocket.

Not only have the Royals taken on high-stakes negations for players in recent drafts, but they’ve opened the coffers for Latin talents like Noel Arguelles, Chelsor Cuthbert as well as pitchers from the Dominican. It shows the Royals are serious about developing the farm system at all levels and via every means possible.

2) The Royals are truly taking a long-range approach.

With several key prospects just a phone call away, the Royals could have been tempted to go for a quicker fix. There were several hot college pitchers still available when the Royals number came up. And college star third baseman Anthony Rendon, projected in the top two draftees by some, was sitting there as well.

But the Royals went with a player that may take a long time to develop. Chances are Starling may not sign until August and may not suit up until 2012. Having played against a low level of competition in high school, he may need lots of seasoning against better pitching. At best, he probably won’t sniff the bigs until 2015. Probably more like 2016. That’s a long wait for a team that stinks currently.

But to further illustrate their commitment to the distant future, the Royals picked high schoolers with all of their first five picks. Addressing another position of need, they were able to draft the third catcher taken at the 65th slot. They took two high school right-handed pitchers in the third and fourth rounds, then took a shortstop with the fifth pick.

3) The Royals got amateur baseball’s most brilliant non-pitcher.

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s when words that aren’t even real words suddenly pop up all over the place. Nearly every article I read about the Gardner-Edgerton product over the past few weeks described him as “toolsy.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen that word anywhere before, but now it’s almost synonymous with Starling.

Much as I despise the word, the sentiment is clear – Starling possess a combination of physical skills that set him apart from every player in this draft. Perhaps from the players in most recent drafts as well. If you believe the legends, he has a combination of speed and power to be the next Mickey Mantle.

Comparing Starling to any hall of famer is premature. But it seems safe to say the Royals haven’t had anyone with his kind of five-tool talent since Carlos Beltran.

Had any of the four pitchers taken ahead of Starling fallen to number five, the Royals would have been sorely tempted. But one senses the Royals really wanted to draft the hometown boy. When the first four picks went as they did, the KC brass must have let out a sigh of relief.

I certainly did. I have never been this excited to follow a Royals draftee. I’ll be holding on with white knuckles until he signs. But if and when he does, the number one farm system in baseball will have a new favorite star in Starling.

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