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What has Bubba Starling been up to?
A look at 'extended spring' as top Royals prospect nears debut
06/21/2012 10:11 AM ET
Starling strained his hamstring in the first inning of an exhibition Sunday.
Starling strained his hamstring in the first inning of an exhibition Sunday. (Matt Burton/MiLB.com)
@Bubba_Star10: Last night that I get to sleep In my own bed! And with my kittie! #gonnamissit
12:20 AM - 20 Feb 12

Off to the airport! Bye Kansas :)
7:07 AM - 20 Feb 12

Great first week of spring training!! :)
8:39 PM - 3 Mar 12

At this point in late winter, Bubba Starling is 19, is the reigning fifth pick in the 2011 Draft, is a millionaire, and is ranked No. 1 -- above Wil Myers -- among the Kansas City Royals' top prospects. He has Hall of Famer George Brett in his ear and Eric Hosmer taking batting practice in his view. And yet, he hasn't played one inning or taken one swing in pro ball. These firsts, and others like them, he's hoping to experience soon. In fact, he's hoping that he will be assigned to Class A Kane County of the full-season Midwest League. But when that club and all the other Royals Minor League affiliates break camp, he does not break with them.

He will be here, in the in-between.

@Bubba_Star10: Extended <<<
8:11 PM - 28 Mar 12

Bored outa my mind!!
10:40 PM - 3 Apr 12

Just trying to get out of this extended stuff! Been here too long man
9:08 PM - 13 Apr 12


But Starling isn't sitting on the couch, Tweeting to his heart's delight about where he's grabbing dinner (he seems amenable to endorsing Taco Bell, Chipotle or Jimmy John's) or which teammates he misses playing with (fellow farmhands Jason Adam and Lane Adams have moved on). He is putting in an arduous eight-to-10-hour workday at the Royals complex in Surprise, Ariz. The "extended spring training" that takes place here is one part summer camp, another part Groundhog Day: Today is regimented, and it's going to resemble tomorrow.

It can begin as early as 6 or 6:30 a.m., the time by which some players report for duty. By 8:30, all have heard announcements and received their assignments for the day. The first-year players like Starling use this time to acclimate themselves to the organization's strength and conditioning program, build relationships with coaches and roving instructors, re-learn (or, in some cases, learn) the fundamentals (i.e. how to play the infield in a first-and-third situation) or just take BP and play catch. There is also a classroom element; and while Latin American players are brushing up on their language or cultural skills, the natives are at community service events.

There are games too -- a lot of them.

@Bubba_Star10: Up bright and early ready to go to work! #Royals
8:36 AM - 26 Apr 12

Great Saturday night sitting in my room doing absolutely nothing!!! #sucks #Arizonaprobz
1:30 AM - 29 Apr 12

Done for the day! Now this long bus ride back! #sucks
4:05 PM - 4 May 12

No ballplayer dreams of signing his first contract and then shipping off to play where the games don't count and the fans don't show. Even if he welcomes the anonymity in Arizona as opposed to his small-town fame back in Gardner, Kan., it's obvious Starling isn't thrilled to be here for an extended period of time. But it's also explained to newly minted draftees that the later they sign, the more likely they'll have to wait to start their careers in earnest. Four of the Royals' top five draftees in 2011, Starling chief among them, waited to sign until deadline day, Aug. 15. Second-round pick Cameron Gallagher, also a prep, signed on Aug. 1 and was able to play 28 games last season. (Of course, with the new draft rules, including a mid-July signing deadline, all this will be subject to change in future years. At a minicamp held this month, 26 2012 selections, including fifth overall pick Kyle Zimmer, were in attendance.)

Being sent to Surprise isn't a punishment -- it's a reality. The 55-75 players staying or passing through here -- whether they're first-timers or rehabbers like John Lamb -- need their reps. So they work six-day weeks: Thursday is a camp day, Sunday is an off-day and, the other five days, games are played against other organizations with facilities close by. Thanks to the doubleheader, they can play about 90 games in the time it takes full-season clubs to play 60. Starting pitchers take the hill every sixth day, and position players can get as many as 150-plus at-bats. There's comfort in knowing Kansas City's kids of the future are going to be on the field everyday -- there are fewer rainouts in Surprise, Ariz. than, say, Geneva, Ill. -- in an environment not unlike the "complex" Arizona and Gulf Coast Leagues that begin in June.

So Starling isn't the only one toiling here in baseball purgatory (see table, below), but he is the one most want to see in uniform: Of the thousands of readers who answered MiLB.com's homepage poll question -- "Whose short-season debut are you most looking forward to?" -- over the past week, Starling received 56 percent of the vote, or 41 percent more than his closest competitor.

@Bubba_Star10: Laying here thinking about how cool it was to hear my name get announced last year at this time! #mlbdraft #Royals
9:48 PM - 4 Jun 12

Last night in this bed! It's been a good 5 months! Off to NC tmrw! #bouttime
12:12 AM - 14 Jun 12

Travel Day! #Burlington
1:54 PM - 14 Jun 12

It's mid June and Starling is a Royal alright -- a Burlington Royal about to finally begin his career with an exhibition opposing the Kernersville Bulldogs on Sunday, the 17th. Starling starts in center field, bats third and singles with two outs in the opening inning, but he strains his hamstring shortly thereafter and will leave the game. Four days later, the local newspaper reports that Starling will not play in the B-Royals' season-opening three-game road series in Pulaski, Va. But this is 12 months after he was drafted, 10 months since he signed his Scott Boras-negotiated deal and about five since he disappeared from the public as a baseball player.

So what's a few more days?

Top 2011 Draftees Debuting in 2012 Short-Season
Player Pick Organization Team
Bubba Starling (OF) 5 Kansas City Royals Burlington Royals (APP)
Taylor Guerrieri (RHP) 24 Tampa Bay Rays Hudson Valley Renegades (NYP)
Robert Stephenson (RHP) 27 Cincinnati Reds Billings Mustangs (PIO)
Larry Greene (OF) 39 Philadelphia Phillies Williamsport Crosscutters (NYP)
Travis Harrison (3B) 50 Minnesota Twins Elizabethton Twins (APP)
Dwight Smith (OF) 53 Toronto Blue Jays Bluefield Blue Jays (APP)
Hudson Boyd (RHP) 55 Minnesota Twins Elizabethton Twins (APP)
Kevin Comer (RHP) 57 Toronto Blue Jays Bluefield Blue Jays (APP)
Roman Quinn (SS) 66 Philadelphia Phillies Williamsport Crosscutters (NYP)
Dillon Howard (RHP) 67 Cleveland Indians TBD
Norris, Daniel (LHP) 74 Toronto Blue Jays Bluefield Blue Jays (APP)
Bryan Brickhouse (RHP) 95 Kansas City Royals Idaho Falls Chukars (PIO)
Jack Armstrong (RHP) 99 Houston Astros TBD

Prospect Up
No. 7 Dylan Bundy (Orioles) was all the buzz, but even when he was at his peak mowing down every batter he faced, multiple scouts were saying that No. 22 Zack Wheeler (Mets) was the best pitcher they have seen while multiple others were saying that No. 38 Jake Odorizzi (Royals) was the best they have seen. So who's been best? Well, Wheeler has the slightly better numbers, but Odorizzi has fared extremely well in the hitter-friendly Texas and Pacific Coast Leagues. The stance here: Odorizzi is "Up," having the better year, but Wheeler is still the better prospect.

Prospect Down
No. 61 Aaron Hicks (Twins) batted .273 his first month at Double-A New Britain but has hit .220 (24-for-109) in 34 games since and is striking out in 26 percent of his at-bats. Because he also batted just .242 and fanned 110 times at Class A Advanced Fort Myers in 2011, it's looking more likely that he ends up as a prospect who doesn't turn most of his tools into skills. One player who seems to have turned this corner -- No. 47 Anthony Gose (Blue Jays), also an outfielder lauded for his defensive abilities -- offers Hicks the road map to greater offensive production.

Memo from Mayo
One of the best byproducts of the new Draft rules in place is that all players (aside from college seniors) have to sign by July 13. With less wiggle room in terms of negotiating bonuses, many 2012 draftees have already signed and are out playing, including No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa, who had three games under his belt through Wednesday afternoon. The last time a No. 1 overall pick played at all the summer he was drafted was back in 2008, when Tim Beckham signed early enough to get 48 games in.

Correa's not alone. Gavin Cecchini and D.J. Davis have already accrued some at-bats, and many of the other already-signed first-rounders will begin doing so as other short-season leagues get under way. If you're looking for one spot to see an exciting 2012 Draft dynamic duo, head to Dunedin where the GCL Blue Jays play. That's where Davis is leading off and Anthony Alford, the third round pick who was signed away from a football scholarship, is hitting second.

For more of Draft and prospects expert Jonathan Mayo's analysis, visit MLB.com's Prospects Central.

Your Questions, Answered
Tweet your prospect-related queries to @AndrewMiLB and @MinorLeagues.

Reading Material

Prospect Tweet Worth Re-tweeting: "@Trouty20 You can take the prospect part out of your profile info. Keep it up bud" -- Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels' outfielder @garybrown909, messaging Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Mike Trout.

Andrew Pentis is a contributor to MLB.com. Cory Schwartz contributed research to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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