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Starling on an upswing following stellar '15

Former first-round pick showed progress after making mechanical adjustments
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- This spring is so different for prospect Bubba Starling, the Royals' first-round pick (fifth overall) from 2011.

Last spring was Starling's first big league camp. And it showed.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- This spring is so different for prospect Bubba Starling, the Royals' first-round pick (fifth overall) from 2011.

Last spring was Starling's first big league camp. And it showed.

"I came in here pretty nervous last year, not knowing what to expect," Starling said. "Now it's totally different. I know what to expect from being around these guys last year. It's fun now. A lot more fun."

Breaking down the Royals' Top 30 Prospects

That anxiety last spring was apparent when Starling, No. 7 among the Royals' Top 30 Prospects, according to MLBPipeline.com, started appearing in games, especially when he was at the plate.

"I think I started out 0-for-5 with five punchies," Starling said. "I remember sitting down with [Mike Moustakas] and talking about just relaxing and letting the game come to you. Then I went out and started playing better."

After those five strikeouts, Starling finished his spring by going 4-for-11 with a double.

"It was a tough start, like I said," Starling said. "I was uptight and really nervous. But, once I just got going with the opposite attitude, I started to play a lot better."

• Royals' Spring Training information

Starling's offense always has been the focus of scouts and evaluators. He hit .241 at Class A Lexington in 2013 and .218 at Class A Advanced Wilmington in '14, and critics began suggesting Starling was a bust.

But Starling made some mechanical adjustments to his swing last season, and the results have been encouraging.

Video: Top Prospects: Bubba Starling, OF, Royals

At Double-A Northwest Arkansas, Starling posted a .744 OPS with 10 homers and 32 RBIs. He played in the Arizona Fall League and had a .770 OPS with four homers and 10 RBIs in 22 games.

"I put my hands back a little further last year, so I didn't have to load so much, and that made my timing better," Starling said. "I was able to pick up the release point a little sooner and just let my athletic ability take over.

"There's less movement with my hands. Just a little quieter with the swing. Quicker."

As Starling toiled in the AFL, he also watched the Royals' run to their first World Series title in 30 years.

"That was pretty amazing to watch," he said.

Video: SUR@SRR: Starling throws home to get the force

Naturally, dreams of someday cracking the big league roster drifted into Starling's mind. It's a dream that the Royals' front office would love to come to fruition as well.

"We want the young guys to force our hand," assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said. "Maybe by the second half of 2016 that will happen."

Starling, 23, knows the clock is beginning to tick on his career. And he knows it is time to take a significant leap forward.

"If I continue to put my work in and develop my paths [to the ball] a little bit more, and keep progressing," he said, "good things are going to happen.

"All I can do is get my work in and get better and, hopefully, my numbers will be good enough."

Jeffrey Flanagan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB.

 

Kansas City Royals, Bubba Starling