As far as high school prep athletes go, Bubba Starling was pretty much the complete package.
On the baseball diamond, he batted .481 in his senior season and hit the mid-90s on the radar gun. As a standout quarterback, he threw for 812 yards and rushed for 2,417 more. On the basketball court, he averaged 30 points per game as a small forward. In between dominating the opposition in every sport he tried, Starling also volunteered his time reading to youngsters at neighboring grade schools.
The 6-foot-4 19-year-old achieved celebratory status in his hometown of Gardner, Kan., long before the Royals selected him with the fifth overall pick in June's Draft.
Even then, though, Starling's future in pro ball was uncertain as he weighed the pros and cons of accepting a scholarship to play football for the University of Nebraska, a Division-I school he had committed to earlier in the year. It wasn't until the final moments of the 11 p.m. deadline on Aug. 15 that Starling chose a lucrative career in baseball over the alternative lifestyle of the student-athlete.
Starling spoke to MiLB.com about deciding to go pro, representing Team USA at the Under-18 level and overhauling his swing ahead of Spring Training.
MiLB.com: I heard you've already traveled down to Arizona to get some swings in. When did you start working out?
Bubba Starling: I've been working out the whole offseason here right after instructs. I came out here three weeks ago. I've just been working out here and hitting on the field and getting to know some of the guys. There's another kid here, Jason Adam, he got drafted [in the fifth round] last year out of Kansas City. He's my real good buddy and we've been hanging out quite a bit. There are a lot of the position players -- the outfielders -- that I've been hanging around.
MiLB.com: Were you looking to work on anything in particular in the instructional league or just shake off the rust?
Starling: I was just trying to get some games under my belt because I didn't play all summer just because I signed so late. I was working on my swing a little bit, adjusting a few things. The last time I had a game was back in mid-October. It was a little shaky right off the bat, but I got into the groove and started playing my game and it felt good.
MiLB.com: What changes are you making to your swing?
Starling: I'm starting to use my lower half more and using my legs. I put on 10 pounds in the offseason. I'm also starting to adjust my hands a little more and keeping them back a little bit and getting the bat barrel at a different angle. I'm getting my front foot down more. I was kinda gliding toward the ball, and that was when I couldn't hit some of those off-speed pitches. Now I'm getting my foot down -- I feel like I have a better swing. There are a lot of other guys out there in our organization that have better mechanics than I do. I would say that my mechanics are still a little bit raw, but I'm getting better with everything.
MiLB.com: Are you happy with your weight or are you still looking to add a little more muscle in the next month?
Starling: I'm looking to add maybe five more pounds. I was 205 during instructs and I'm 215 now. 220 would be a great weight for me as long as I can keep my speed up. That would be great.
MiLB.com: How would you rate the other aspects of your game? The baserunning, the fielding, the throwing?
Starling: I feel like I can cover some ground. In center field, I feel like I have to be a leader out there and tell guys to adjust to where they need to be. I can read the ball off the bat pretty well too, and if people try to steal on me, I feel like my arm strength has gotten a little better. Gaining those 10 pounds has really helped me out. Offensively, definitely running the bases I feel like I've got some speed.
MiLB.com: How important is it to be vocal when you're manning center field?
Starling: It's really important. You have different kinds of guys coming up to the plate with different swings. I like studying guys and what they do in that first plate appearance, and sometimes even before they come up to bat. I tell some of the guys what they're capable of doing. Being a center fielder, that's good to know so you can tell your guys where they need to be or how they need to adjust. It's very important. Mentally, you have to know what's going on with these guys.
MiLB.com: Going back to your childhood, what baseball memories do you have?
Starling: I used to play for a team out in Kansas City called Mac-N-Seitz. The Seitz part of it is Kevin Seitzer, who is actually the big league hitting coach now for the Royals. Mike Macfarlane actually played for the Royals too. I think it's kinda cool playing for that organization, and now I get to play for the Royals just like they did. I remember growing up with my cousins playing baseball with them, and I think that's what made me smarter about learning the game. I always remember going to games, wishing and dreaming that I could be out there on the field some day.
MiLB.com: How special was it when the Royals took you in the Draft?
Starling: It was very special. I was very emotional with my family right after they took me. Getting a chance to play for my hometown team hopefully in three or four years if I work hard and make it up there would be really special. As an organization, we're getting better and we're going to be in the playoffs real soon. We're going to be in the World Series -- that's how much talent we have here. I think we're getting a lot better.
MiLB.com: How did baseball fit in alongside football and basketball back in high school?
Starling: It was tough because I played those other two sports, of course. Each year I would have baseball season and then I would concentrate just on football and just on basketball. It was tough just playing baseball for two months and then not playing at all for another six or eight months. It was tough not concentrating on just one sport like some of the other guys, you know?
MiLB.com: You put up impressive stats in all three sports. Would you consider baseball your best sport, or was baseball just the sport that presented you with the best opportunities at this point of your life?
Starling: I'd say baseball, probably. Football just came along my junior and senior seasons, and I loved it quite a bit. It was tough giving up football, but I was smarter at baseball and I knew more baseball stuff. I had more support around that would help me out for baseball, and that's why I chose to go with baseball.
MiLB.com: Tell me about your thought process leading up to the 2011 Draft when you had made your commitment to the University of Nebraska.
Starling: I chose Nebraska because they had a great coaching staff and because they were going to allow me to play both sports [football and baseball]. It was also fairly close to Kansas City where I lived. It was tough. I went up there in the summertime, but in the end, I was just ready to start my baseball career.
MiLB.com: Just how close were you to going to college in the end?
Starling: I was very close. I went up there for a reason during the summer to work out and take classes and everything and to get better at football stuff because I didn't know if the baseball thing would work out. At the very end, we started negotiating with the Royals and I'm happy to be here.
MiLB.com: Was there ever a time during the negotiating process that you thought you might pursue a college education over pro baseball?
Starling: I really didn't think about it too much. When I was up in Nebraska, I wasn't in contact with the Royals for a whole month, basically the entire month of July. I never talked to them just because I was up there to play football. I wasn't up there to talk baseball or negotiate. I just wanted to worry about football. When August and the deadline came around, that's when I came home and sat down with my family and discussed what I really wanted to do. That was really great for my family to help me out with that decision.
MiLB.com: And a nice signing bonus there too. How much did that impact your final decision?
Starling: Being a first-rounder, I knew there was going to be some money there. At the end of the day it is a lot of money, but it doesn't change the type of person I am. I'm not worried about the money side of it, I love the game of baseball and I wanted to start my career because of that love of baseball. It just so happened that there was a lot of money involved too.
MiLB.com: How humbling was it to know a team would make such a large investment -- the largest ever for a high school player -- in you so early in your career?
Starling: It was crazy because of the record signing bonus. You've got guys like Eric Hosmer and all these great players that are in the big leagues now, and here I am getting a little bit more than they did. I don't worry about the money part of it. I'm just another guy in the Minors trying to make it to the big leagues.
MiLB.com: You represented Team USA in baseball at the Under-18 World Championships in 2010. What did you take from that experience?
Starling: It was a great experience, especially looking back at it now. There were two, three, four, five guys on that team that got drafted in the first round as well as some other guys who got drafted this year too. It was just fun getting to meet everyone. There were a ton of Texas and California guys, so I was the odd one out for a while. But once I fit in and met some guys, it was OK. It was a lot of fun to play with them.
MiLB.com: You've always been viewed as a celebrity of sorts in your hometown just because of all the success you had at high school. How did that change once you got selected by the Royals?
Starling: It's been crazy. I was in Kansas City this offseason, and every place I go out there's someone that recognizes me. I have to laugh. I'm just another person, but they see me as a celebrity. I don't mind it, though. I just have to keep myself positive and stay out of trouble. It's great going home because I get to see my family and friends. I haven't seen them since I graduated high school, so it's great to see how they're doing. They're always quick to wish me the best of luck and say that they can't wait to see me in Kansas City in a few years.
MiLB.com: I read that you volunteered quite a lot of your time when you were back in school -- as a phys-ed instructor at a middle school and at a literacy outreach program. How has that shaped the type of person you are?
Starling: It was so much fun getting to go. Some of the teachers took me to a few middle schools and grade schools, and I got to read to some kids and talk to them about life and everything. It hit me quite a bit, because I got to see the lives they were living. When I was their age I wanted the same thing -- to meet some of the big-name guys that I looked up to, and here I was doing the same thing to them. It was kinda cool.
MiLB.com: Is that something you hope to stay involved with throughout your baseball career?
Starling: Definitely. Next week I'm going to a fifth-grade grade school to talk to some kids. I'm really excited about that.
MiLB.com: What can fans expect to see from you this year?
Starling: In 2012, I'm going to be a rookie going out with a Minor League affiliate, so I just have to work as hard as I can. I want to be a great teammate, but in the back of my head, I have to think about being back in Kansas City in a few years. All offseason the Royals have told me to go easy and not to go too hard, just to get my work in. As the season progresses and Spring Training comes around, they're going to want to see me getting active and, of course, I will. I'm a winner, I love winning. I don't take losing very well. Unfortunately in baseball you can fail a lot, but I plan on dealing with that. Everything depends on how Spring Training goes and how decent I do, I guess. Wherever I end up, I'll be happy as long as I work hard.