Photo: Plank Photography

50 in 50: Derek "Bubba" Starling

Draft : : Top Prospects
David Rawnsley        
Published: Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Derek “Bubba” Starling
OF / Gardner-Edgerton High School

Bats-Throws:
R-R
Height/Weight: 6-4/190
Hometown: Gardner, Kan.
College Commitment: Nebraska
Birthdate: Aug. 3, 1992

SCOUTING PROFILE:
Probably more has been written about Starling than any other 2011 draft prospect, at either the college or high-school levels. And while he might not be quite as well-known nationally as 2010 top draft pick Bryce Harper was at this time last year, Starling and Harper can at least be mentioned in the same breath. Two pieces were recently posted on the Perfect Game website that provided insight to Starling:

Kansas State 2011 Draft Preview
High School Game of the Week: All Eyes on Starling

In addition,
Sports Illustrated recently ran this piece on Starling, noticeably less impactful than the flashy cover story it did proclaiming Harper, “The Chosen One”, but still notable.

With all that background material and a fair share of hyperbole included, let’s concentrate on some of the basic scouting/draft impressions of Starling, and some of the unique issues related to his two-sport status.

For all the hype Starling has received, he has had about 100 meaningful at-bats in the past two years, including 62 with USA Baseball’s junior national team last summer. He also had about 12-15 plate appearances at the Area Code Games in California last August, and only 27 ABs for his high-school team this spring as he missed three weeks of the 2011 season with a quad injury. Very few of those at-bats have been with wood. A rough estimate for a top high-school prospect at a southern-tier school, who would have participated in a number of showcases and interchangeably played for a top-level travel team, would be approximately 300-400 at-bats over the same period, many against elite high-school arms. Top prospects in this draft like Florida’s Francisco Lindor and California’s Travis Harrison easily accumulated those kind of totals. For a top college hitter such as Connecticut’s George Springer and Louisiana State’s Mikie Mahtook, that figure might have approached 800 at-bats over the last two years. Starling’s limited exposure is a concern for scouts, for good reason.

Using the standard 20-80 baseball scouting scale (50 being major-league average), I would grade out Starling’s five basic tools as follows, based on observing him for five days at last summer’s Area Code Games (the grades reflect future grades only):

HITTING (60).
This is the biggest question that scouts have about Starling, but he showed little or no problem in Long Beach handling either quality off-speed stuff or high-velocity fastballs, and made necessary adjustments with each at-bat. Bat speed is not an issue.

POWER (70).
It’s not in the Josh Hamilton or Eric Hosmer realm at the same age, but the swing, leverage and pure bat speed are all there. This grade measures his degree of raw power, but most often the tool is a by-product of the hitting tool.

SPEED (70).
Starling is probably a 60 runner (above average) from home to first, and could be an 80 runner in the outfield and on the bases. He has an easy stride and has that extra gear when underway that could lead to him leading a league in triples one day.

ARM (70).
Some scouts at the Area Code Games were still believing that Starling was a better pitching prospect than position prospect as he threw his fastball at 90-92 mph, with little more knowledge of pitching than stepping and throwing. He didn’t pitch this spring, and probably never will again.

DEFENSE (80).
Starling has Gold-Glove caliber tools in center field and gets exceptionally good jumps on balls hit in his direction. This part of the game comes very easy to him.

Cumulatively, those numbers grade out to an OFP (overall future potential) score of 70, a level that maybe one or two players in any draft will reach. If I was writing a report on Starling for a major-league club, I would probably be inclined to drop that grade by a couple of points, to a 67 or 68, because of some of the uncertainty in his hitting tool.

Despite all his obvious baseball tools and the inherent financial implications of being one of the top few picks in the draft, Starling is not a slam-dunk to play baseball. The possibility of Starling playing football at Nebraska is very real, whether full-time or for all but the three months in the summer when he might play baseball in the minor leagues. Obviously, his situation is a tricky, delicate one for major-league teams to contemplate. Despite his big frame and superior arm strength, Starling is a run-first quarterback (he had 2,471 yards rushing and 31 TDs on the ground in 12 games as a high-school senior) who is an ideal physical fit for what Nebraska football teams prefer to do on offense. Should he choose to play college football, he would be treated like a folk-hero on the Nebraska campus from day one, and no football fans in the country can shower a football star with more adulation than Cornhusker nation. That surreal atmosphere might be very difficult for Starling to pass up.

Projected Draft Position:
First round, Top 10 Picks.

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