Starling’s story is well known among Royals fans. The fifth overall pick of the 2011 MLB Draft, Starling was a three-sport star at Gardner-Edgerton High School in Kansas, less than an hour from Kauffman Stadium. But the fairy-tale, local-boy-does-great story has never developed for Starling, now eight years later.
Injuries and a career Minor League average of .238 have held Starling back, even to the point that the Royals dropped him from the 40-man roster in the offseason before re-signing him to a Minor League deal with a spring invite.
But Starling looks like a new player this spring at the plate. He already is 6-for-9 in the early going with two home runs, and he patiently took a bases-loaded walk to walk off the Padres, 3-2, on Thursday.
MLB.com sat down with Starling on Friday morning:
Q: Ned Yost raved about your patience in that walk-off walk Thursday. How much different is your plate approach this spring?
Starling: “I think it’s coming down to being relaxed and comfortable and how early I can see the ball to be on time. That’s pretty much what I’m working on. Keeping it simple. That last at-bat, in the past I probably would have tried to get too big and try to overdo something. But I just tried to stay relaxed. I think I chased one pitch and got down 1-2 but I got back to 3-2. I could have taken that one [inside pitch and gotten hit by it]. But I ended up having a good at-bat. I didn’t get the one pitch I could drive so I just stayed relaxed.”
Q: Perhaps no one deserves some success like you after what you’ve been through in the Minors. What has it been like this spring to have some early success?
Starling: “It’s nice. I’ve put my work in every offseason but this offseason I really put the work in to get my body in shape, and my hitting. It’s nice to get some results but I have to continue it, keep working in the cage and on the field and keep getting better.”
Q: You probably knew you were going off the 40-man roster this offseason, but you also knew the Royals wanted you back and that it was just a roster crunch decision. What was all that like?
Starling: “It was tough. But to help the team out, I always knew I wanted to come back. They have treated me well. I signed back and I’m here now and I’m excited.”
Q: What was your offseason like?
Starling: “I went down to the Dominican to play winter ball but some things happened [an illness] so I came back. And I just tried to get my body in shape. In the past I’ve been prepared for the season but this time I really got my body in shape. This is the best I’ve felt in a long time.”
Q: You’ve probably known you’ve had that ability to hit in the past but it never happened for whatever reason. What has brought it out this spring?
Starling: “I think it just shows that I have more confidence. I know when I go to the outfield, I’m very confident that I can run down or catch a ball. And I think I’m having that mentality up at the plate now. But I’m also staying relaxed and not trying to do too much.”
Q: What is your mindset this season. Is it a do-or-die year?
Starling: “For me, it’s just staying healthy and having some fun with the guys. It has been so rough the last few years, being hurt, and having that tag on you that this guy can never be on the field because he’s always hurt. I feel like I’m the complete opposite person now.”
Q: How many times have Nebraska fans [Starling had a scholarship there] wanted you to come back and play quarterback?
Starling: “[Laughing] There are some great fans there and they are very passionate about football and what they have up there. I watch them every year and hopefully they can turn it on this year. I mean, you have your personal times, you struggle and you think, ‘What if?’ But I definitely haven’t thought about that for a long time.”