Watching Bubba Starling

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday night, I got the opportunity to go see the Northwest Arkansas Naturals play the Springfield Cardinals at Hammonds Field in Springfield. If you haven't been down this way to see a Naturals game (or a game in Springfield in general), I highly recommend it. Hammonds is a very nice AA ballpark with great sight lines and amenities.

As some of you may have heard recently, Royals prospect/enigma Bubba Starling plays for the Naturals after getting promoted from Class A Wilmington. Bubba was killing the pitching at Wilmington this year, despite no significant change in his strikeout rate. Although I'm skeptical of those numbers from a BABIP-fairy view, it can't be denied that his early-season hot streak earned him a promotion.

Watching Bubba Starling on Tuesday was a somewhat surreal experience. I remember seeing Eric Hosmer in AA a few years ago, and seeing him rip the cover off the ball in a near-literal sense was absolutely amazing. Starling struck me in much the same way. His physical build is that of an athlete. He plays a very good center field. He has good speed on the bases, something the Royals take very seriously (although he's no Terrance Gore in that respect).

This just adds to my frustration at watching him. In Bubba Starling, we have an athletic specimen who looks like he should be on a Major League roster. He just looks the part, filling out his uniform well with a tall frame that has clearly added the necessary muscle. He does a lot of things really well. But the fact that Bubba hasn't been able to hit until this season just adds to the enigma.

Tuesday night, Bubba was able to hit. In the Naturals' 5-3 win, Bubba went 2-4 with a two-run homer and an RBI double. He, in a very literal sense, won the game for the Naturals. The homer was absolutely obliterated. Although Hammonds Field is a hitter-friendly park, Starling's homer would've been out at Kauffman easily. His 2nd inning blast cleared a line of trees set back about 30 feet from the wall. The double was another shot I thought had a chance to get out down the third base line, but bounced on the warning track and off the wall. Bubba's swing has looked much faster through the zone, and with less uppercut, and the same was true of Tuesday. Starling also caught everything in center, and showed good range to get to most everything hit his way. The only extra base hits the Cardinals had were a homer into the left field bullpen, and a double down the right field line.

Maybe Bubba is turning a corner. It's hard to tell right now. Bubba did strike out again on the night, this one looking at a fastball at the knees. It's impossible to deny that he is one of the most talented prospects the Royals have right now. If he is ever able to put it all together, it would be a huge turnaround for a player many have already written off as a bust. Bubba has time to get it together, and the Royals don't really need him at the moment, and so should give him as much time as he needs.

Some other notes from the game Tuesday night:

  • BALBINO!!! I really hope Balbino Fuenmayor figures out a way to get the the big leagues. Even if it isn't with the Royals. He's really fun to watch hit. Watching him play first base is fun too, in the same sort of way that watching Emil Brown play right field was fun. Fielding aside, I think we might have something here.
  • J.C. Sulbaran got the win for the Naturals. He went 6.0 innings, allowing one run ( a solo homer in the 2nd) on six hits with one walk and four strikeouts. Sulbaran has a pretty good pick-off move, picking off the Cardinals' leadoff man in the top of the first after he singled into right. Otherwise, I wasn't particularly impressed with Sulbaran. His fastball is not a Major League fastball, sitting at around 87-88 with no movement for deception. His breaking pitches are decent enough against AA players, but I'm not sure how they would hold up against MLB players.
  • Jorge Bonifacio continues to struggle at the plate. He went 0-4 with one strikeout. He reached base on an error in the first inning, but other than that was quiet. I'm not really sure what's wrong here, as he's similar to Bubba in having lots of good tools in the bag. He's just not hitting right now.
  • Hunter Dozier went 1-3 with a single, a walk, and two K's. He walked ahead of the Starling homer in the second, but was otherwise quiet.
  • Terrance Gore is still fast.
  • Nobody else who played for the Naturals on Tuesday really struck me as important players organizationally. Hopefully I'll get to go again tonight. I missed Miguel Almonte yesterday, as I had to work and couldn't make the 11:15 AM first pitch. Matt Murray goes for the Naturals tonight. He's 2-0 with a 4.61 ERA, 10 K's in 13.2 innings of work.
  • Northwest Arkansas has won 11 in a row. I'm not sure, but I think that might be good.

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