Bubba Starling, the Royals' top pick in the 2011 draft, has been trending up after a horrible start to his season at Class A Wilmington.
The Royals say Bubba Starling is timing the fastball, which should help raise his self-confidence.
Chris Vleisides / Kansas City Royals
By Jeffrey Flanagan
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Bubba Starling, the fifth overall pick of the 2011 draft, could finally be starting to reach some of the potential the Royals have been waiting on.
Before Tuesday night's game, Starling, 21, ripped off 11 hits in 23 at-bats over a five-game stretch for Class A Wilmington, good enough to be named the Carolina League player of the week.
"(Minor-league hitting coordinator) Terry Bradshaw and a separate scout of ours were at Bubba's games last week," assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said Tuesday, "and they both separately told me he was the best player on the field those five days when it came to hitting, defense, running the bases."
And it wasn't just one good week from Starling: In his last 38 games, he has hit seven doubles, three triples and three homers and driven in 25 runs. During that stretch he has a modest-but-respectable slash line of .262/.319/.409.
In all, Starling had pushed his average -- mired in the .120s most of April -- to .210 before going hitless Tuesday night.
Picollo and other Royals minor-league officials continue to stress to Starling that he must appreciate the small steps.
"What has happened lately has been good for him," Picollo said. "He's had to persevere for some time. It's hard sometimes to convince young hitters that what happened the first month of the season isn't always an omen of what is going to happen the rest of the year.
"We have pointed out to him that his average since May has been good. You have to take the good with the bad even though your overall average isn't where it is supposed to be or where you want it to be.
The problem he had in the past was not timing the fastball. Now he is and that's a great sign.
Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo
"You have to trust that you're doing the right things. But you got to see results, too."
Obsessing with a low batting average can make matters much worse for a hitter.
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"You can't go through all the mind games of going up there and not getting a hit and then start panicking," Picollo said. "It's easy to start overthinking that if you don't get a hit again then you're looking at best at going 1 for 3, and you know that's not good enough.
"(Former Royals hitting coach) Jack Maloof likes to say you need to judge every 100 at-bats or plate appearances and go about it that way. Bubba is around 250-300 right now, so he is trending better the last 100 or 150."
Since being drafted, Starling's offensive problems have been hotly debated. Internet publications and bloggers have repeatedly suggested that Starling can't hit breaking balls and has chased them out of the zone too often.
Picollo couldn't disagree more.
"Actually, I've read those things, too, and they're just wrong," he said. "His problem wasn't chasing pitches in the dirt, it was just trying to lay off the high fastball. He's seen those high fastballs in the past and his eyes got big every time.
"The funny thing is, the pitches he is hitting right now are fastballs that are up in the zone but not out of the zone. He couldn't catch up to that pitch before, and now he is.
"Ironically, now that he is hitting the fastball, he is swinging through some breaking balls right now, which you would consider normal for a young hitter. The problem he had in the past was not timing the fastball. Now he is and that's a great sign."
Pitch selection also has been a criticism of Starling. But Picollo insists that isn't a major issue, either.
"His strike-zone awareness is average," he said. "It could be better. But we chart them and there are hitters who chase out of the zone a lot and they get marked as red. Guys who are average in that category are yellow, and we can live with that. Green is great. Bubba is in the yellow right now.
"But that (pitch selection) comes with experience and maturity. Right now, as long as he's on the fastball, his confidence will continue to go up."