Random thoughts on Bubba Starling


Yes, I just quoted my own tweet.

Bubba Starling was the fifth pick in last year's draft. The Royals selected the multi-sport star from a Kansas high school ahead of polished college hitter Anthony Rendon (Nationals), high school pitcher Archie Bradley (Diamondbacks) and high school shortstop Francisco Lindor (Indians). A quarterback recruited to play at Nebraska, Starling received a $7.5 million bonus to forgo his college commitment.

Viewed as the best athlete in the draft, an outfielder with tape-measure power potential and plus-plus speed, the Royals were ecstatic to sign a kid who grew up rooting for the Royals. "The combination of speed, power, athleticism, the ability to play the field up the middle, we feel like he's got the makings of a star player in the major leagues," Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said when the club signed Starling last August.

Right now, Starling has yet to play his first professional game as he's in extended spring training. Meanwhile, Bradley is dominating Class A hitters in the Midwest League, with just 14 hits allowed in 40 innings, and Lindor is hitting .322 with four home runs in the same league. (Rendon fractured his ankle in his second game and may miss the rest of the season.)

Back to the above tweet. I mentioned this to a friend of mine, who made the good point that Harper and Mike Trout have spoiled us by reaching the major leagues while still 19 years old. I pointed out that Jason Heyward and Giancarlo Stanton were just 20 when they debuted, but the larger point remains true: Most players -- even stars -- don't reach the majors until they're at least 22 or 23, sometimes older.

Still, Starling's age is an issue. Born Aug. 3, 1992, that made him an old high schooler -- nearly a year older than many of the kids he competed against. Now factor in that he didn't play last summer and won't play in an official professional game until rookie season begins in June and he'll be nearly 20 years old when he plays his first game. Even then, he'll be competing against many players born in 1994 or maybe even 1995 in the case of Latin American teenagers. Compare that to Lindor, who was born Nov. 14, 1993. He's 15 months younger than Starling and already playing well in low Class A, a league Starling may not play in until 2013. Starling is only a month younger than 2010 Orioles first-rounder Manny Machado, who is already holding his own in Double-A. As Rany Jazayerli wrote last fall in an important piece of research, "At least when it comes to high school hitters, young draft picks are a MASSIVE market inefficiency."

Certainly, Starling's raw tools are off the charts. Maybe he'll be a star; frankly, there's no way of judging that now until we start seeing him in games where they keep track of the numbers. But I'll say this: I would absolutely take Francisco Lindor over him right now.

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I looked up the debut ages of all position players drafted in the top 10 from the 2001-10 drafts who have reached the major leagues. Here are the relevant guys:

Mike Moustakas was the oldest high schooler, debuting at 22 years and 9 months. If Starling is to match that, he'd debut in May of 2015. Certainly, if everything comes together for him and he proves as much baseball player as great athlete, he should accelerate quickly through the minors: 2012 in rookie ball, 2013 in low A/high A, 2014 in Double-A, 2015 in Triple-A/majors. I'm not saying that Starling won't be a star, just that his clock to stardom is delayed compared to the normal curve.

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The top prospect in the 2012 draft may be Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton (Keith Law has him No. 1 on his draft board. Here's a Baseball America feature on him. "This guy is better than (Pirates outfielder Andrew) McCutchen," a National League crosschecker said in the story. "He's probably the best player I've scouted." Buxton is compared to Starling for his athletic ability, but has more polished baseball skills. "I was a big Starling guy," a second National League crosschecker said. "There's not much separation for me."

Buxton was born Dec. 18, 1993, making him a more normal-aged high school kid, although not 17 when he'll be drafted like Machado or Lindor. When factoring in age, Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa -- Keith has him No. 7 on his board -- becomes even more intriguing. His birthdate is Sept. 22, 1994, so he'll also be just 17 on draft day.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.