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Starling energized to compete for starting spot

Former 1st-round pick nearly quit baseball in 2017
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- The low point came just a few weeks into the 2017 season for prospect Bubba Starling.

Most Royals fans know Starling's story: A first-round pick in the 2011 Draft, he was a three-sport standout from Gardner, Kan., who was so good at football that the University of Nebraska signed him to play quarterback.

KANSAS CITY -- The low point came just a few weeks into the 2017 season for prospect Bubba Starling.

Most Royals fans know Starling's story: A first-round pick in the 2011 Draft, he was a three-sport standout from Gardner, Kan., who was so good at football that the University of Nebraska signed him to play quarterback.

Starling chose baseball and the Royals instead. But after six-plus seasons of mostly struggles, Starling virtually reached the end last May when he stared in disbelief at his .121 average at Triple-A Omaha.

"I thought that was it for me," said Starling, a career .234 hitter in the Minors. "I remember sitting in the batting cage the next day just thinking it was done. I remember calling my parents that night and I was bawling. I said, 'I can't do this anymore.'"

Starling's career stats

But his parents urged him to continue.

"They said, 'Hang in there. God has a plan for you,'" Starling said. "I stuck with that advice."

A few days later, Starling's hitting coach, Tommy Gregg, suggested he lower his hands in his stance. Suddenly, Starling felt his swing become less two-part and more one constant flow.

The results came rather quickly. Soon after, Starling put together a 12-game hitting streak.

And by the time his season was cut short by a right oblique injury in mid-August, Starling had raised his average to .248 with seven home runs and 14 doubles.

"The other thing is, I didn't get bothered by going 0-for-8 anymore," Starling said, "because I knew I could bounce back. Those oh-for-eights didn't turn into oh-for-sixteens."

Video: KC@LAD: Starling drives in two runs with a single

Starling, 25, now feels energized for the 2018 season. And he knows there's a potential opening in center field with Lorenzo Cain having signed with the Brewers.

"I haven't talked to anyone about it," Starling said. "You got Paulo [Orlando] and Billy [Burns], too. But I feel I can compete with them.

"I know it's in there for me, and that's why I'm still working hard at it. If I didn't think I could make it to the Major Leagues, I'd have been done with it. Obviously, I not only want to do if for me, I want to do it for my family and for all the support I have around Kansas City.

"I've been in the system long enough -- seven years now. I feel like I'm getting kind of old. It's time for me to figure this baseball thing out and run with it."

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals, Bubba Starling