Royals secure Starling just before deadline
Club reaches deal with ultra-athletic outfielder from Kansas
KANSAS CITY -- Outfielder Bubba Starling, envisioned as a hometown hero in the making, agreed to terms with the Royals just before Monday night's deadline to sign picks from June's First-Year Player Draft.
Starling, Kansas City's pick in the first round and fifth overall, will receive a $7.5 million signing bonus spread over three years. The right-handed power hitter is projected to be a center fielder.
"This guy is without a doubt one of the best athletes to play the game of baseball in many years," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.
Moore was quoting the refrain he heard often from director of scouting Lonnie Goldberg and assistant general manager J.J. Picollo, who spearheaded the pursuit of Starling.
The $7.5 million deal was the largest to be conferred on a Draft pick by the Royals.
"I've got to thank the Glass family for all of the support they continue to give us as we add to our organization," Moore said of the Royals' ownership.
Moore said the deal with the 19-year-old Starling wasn't struck until "five or six minutes" before the deadline of 11:01 p.m. CT.
"It really hasn't sunk in yet, but I know tomorrow we're going to wake up with smiles on our faces," Moore said. "We look forward to moving on in Bubba's development through our system."
Picollo, who heads player development, said that the 6-foot-5, 195-pound Starling will start his professional career with workouts at the Royals' Surprise, Ariz., complex, where the Arizona Fall League team is currently winding down its Rookie classification season. However, Starling will not play in games until the start of the Arizona Instructional League.
Moore noted that Starling has not actually signed a contract but has agreed to a deal and must also take a physical examination to complete the process.
Starling is a natural for Kansas City. He's from Gardner, Kan., not exactly a long home run from Kauffman Stadium but close enough that folks from the town of 19,000 can get to the ballpark in a half-hour or so.
His proximity to Kansas City was an important factor, but Starling's talent was the determining factor, according to Moore.
"We want to scout our own area like it's the most productive place in the country," Moore said. "We don't want to get beat in our backyard. That being said, if there was another player that we felt was better than Bubba Starling -- say, from Florida or Texas -- we would've selected him. It's about winning, ultimately, championships here in Kansas City."
Moore believes that signing with a hometown team can have a positive effect on a player.
"It's a tremendous motivation for those players," Moore said. "This is his boyhood team, and this is where he wants to be. He's going to take the field every single day in the Minor Leagues with that vision of playing here in Kansas City and making his home team proud."
Stories of Starling's athletic feats approached the status of legend during his days at Gardner Edgerton High School. He galloped to dazzling touchdown runs, walloped 500-foot home runs and a dunked a basketball with net-ripping ease.
In his senior year, Starling was credited with averaging more than 14 yards a carry as a quarterback, scoring 28.3 points a game in basketball and hitting .481 with a home run every six at-bats for the Trailblazers. Supposedly, 50 baseball scouts showed up at one of his games. He made the pages of Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine.
Word spread about this eastern Kansas phenom. Starling told the Kansas City Star that he went to a Royals game and was recognized, and was asked to sign 13 autographs. And that was before the Royals made him the fifth pick in the Draft on June 6.
College recruiters were paying rapt attention, too, quite naturally, and the University of Nebraska invited Starling to play quarterback and center field on an athletic scholarship. Starling went to Lincoln, Neb., in mid-July to work out with football players but decided not to practice when the Cornhuskers' official preseason camp began on Aug. 6 and recently returned to Gardner.
"We did feel that he had a passion for baseball," Moore said. "If we didn't feel he wanted to play, we wouldn't have selected him."
NCAA rules kept Scott Boras, a legend himself in the field of player representation, from acting as Starling's agent, but he could be the advisor for the family. In previous years, Boras handled the Royals' negotiations with first-round picks Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Luke Hochevar.
Hosmer was a late-night uncertainty in 2008 until he settled for $6 million, the most given by the Royals to a Draft pick until Starling's deal. In fact, the Hosmer signing came so late that there was a question of whether he had signed in time, and after three August games with Idaho Falls, he was pulled from competition until the matter was resolved. It was, and Hosmer played later that year in the Arizona Instructional League.
Hosmer, now the Royals' first baseman, has never regretted his decision to sign.
"No, not one day -- it's been a fun ride for me; it really has," Hosmer said. "It's funny -- when I first got called up, I was talking to [first-base coach Doug Sisson], and Sis has pretty much raised us through the whole Minor League system. He walked by and asked if I was having fun, and I said, 'Yeah, I could be in exams right now at ASU, and instead, I'm about to play a big league ballgame.'"
Hosmer is certainly aware of the Starling story.
"I read all the articles," Hosmer said. "I've seen he's been on Team USA and pretty much doing the same route everyone does in high school. Just talking with Dayton and guys out here, they say how unbelievable of an athlete he is. And you go and read the same stuff in football and how good he is there. He's a great kid, from what I've seen and what I've read in those quotes and stuff."
In the end, Moore conceded that the signing of Starling was a difficult task.
"This was particularly tough," Moore said. "We knew on Draft day and prior to Draft day that this had a chance to work really, really good or had a chance to go wrong."
At a few minutes before the deadline, things went right.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.