Royals draft Starling with fifth overall pick

KANSAS CITY (AP) — Lonnie Goldberg wasn’t sure he believed Bubba Starling’s home runs could actually travel 500 feet until he saw for himself.

It was the second game of a doubleheader and the second home run Kansas City’s director of scouting saw the marvelously talented local kid swat that day.

“That last one, he got into pretty good,” said Goldberg. “That one might have.”

A multisport star at suburban Gardner, Kan., and one of the greatest high school athletes in the state’s history, Starling was taken by his hometown Royals with the fifth overall selection in the baseball draft Monday night. The 6-5, 200-pound outfielder became the highest-drafted baseball player in Kansas City area history. He first caught K.C.’s attention when he was about 14 and already performing eye-popping feats on the football field, the baseball diamond and the basketball court.

“I haven’t seen anybody do what this kid can do on a football field or a basketball court and then translate it onto the diamond,” said Goldberg. “We got the player we wanted. He’s the most electric athlete in the draft, and he’s in our backyard as well. There’s not much not to like about this kid. He’s competitive. He’s a winner. We were real fortunate he was there.”

The legend of Bubba Starling has been growing since he was barely old enough to hold a baseball bat. When he was 8 years old playing in a recreation league, parents complained to Jimbo Starling they were worried their kids might get hurt because Bubba threw and hit the ball so hard. So he was bumped up two years and began competing with 10-year-olds.

Playing for suburban Gardner-Edgerton High School just southwest of Kansas City this spring, Starling batted .481 and averaged one home run every six at-bats. His fastball has been clocked around 95 mph but he played only in center field his senior season. Playing for Team USA in the under-18 category last summer, he batted .399 with three home runs, 12 RBI and 20 runs scored.

His best sport may be football. His senior season, after rushing for 2,471 yards and 31 touchdowns, he was heavily recruited by just about every major program in the country before signing to play quarterback at Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers have also promised to let him play baseball, but general manager Dayton Moore said he’s sure the Royals will get their man.

“We feel very confident we’re going to sign our players. Every player we select, especially early on,” said Moore. “Obviously, each negotiation has its own set of circumstances and they’re a little unique, especially in this case because he’s a dual-sport athlete. But we’re confident.”

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said in a text message to the Associated Press he had no inkling about whether Starling would choose college football or professional baseball.

“Nope,” Pelini wrote. “Nothin I can do about it!”

But Jimbo Starling said Monday night the decision will still be a tough one.

“I’m sure it will be,” he told the Associated Press. “He reports to Nebraska July 10. So hopefully, we’ll see what happens.”

Starling said there was no big celebration at their home when the Royals drafted Bubba.

“It’s pretty exciting,” he said. “It’s just family here now. We’re going to let him enjoy it right now and keep everybody away for a little bit.”

Starling, whose first name is Derek, was given the name Bubba when he weighed 10 pounds at birth.

“This player, without a doubt, is one of the more special athletes that plays our game,” said Moore. “You don’t see athletes like this playing baseball. His instincts combined with his athleticism is special. A lot of times you’ll see players that are athletic but they lack instincts. This guy’s athletic and he has instincts as well.”

As four teams picked ahead of them, all taking pitchers, Moore said the Royals were getting nervous.

“We really sweated this out up until about 10 minutes before we made the selection because he was in a lot of peoples’ mix. We weren’t sure he was going to get to us.”

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