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Starling looks to stand out with Royals
Cards will bring trophy to opener, Rays picks on display
06/19/2012 10:16 AM ET
Bubba Starling continues to improve his game with the Burlington Royals.
Bubba Starling continues to improve his game with the Burlington Royals. (Matt Burton/MiLB.com)
League Preview When Bubba Starling emerged as a three-sport standout as a high school athlete, speculation about his potential grew. Now another phase is set to begin as the 19-year-old outfielder embarks on his professional career in the Appalachian League with the Burlington Royals.

"I just need to go out and start playing," Starling said. "I need some games under my belt."

Starling was Kansas City's first-round Draft selection in 2011. He signed at the mid-August deadline and went to Instructional League. This year, a stint in extended spring training came before his assignment to the North Carolina club. Starling, who agreed to a $7.5 million signing bonus spread across three years, is tagged to play as a center fielder for his first season.

"He has got instincts in the outfield," first-year Burlington manager Tommy Shields said. "He has a lot of tools and works hard. Wherever he goes, he's going to be an exciting player."

Starling gave up a football scholarship at Nebraska -- where he was poised to compete at quarterback -- to play baseball. He was a three-sport star (also playing basketball) at Gardner-Edgerton High School in Kansas.

Starling said he sensed progress during his time in extended spring workouts in Surprise, Ariz.

"Of course, I signed late. That kind of left me behind some of those guys," Starling said. "These other guys have been playing more [baseball], and I've been playing all three. I didn't really ever concentrate on one. I think it has helped the last five months. They've been working on my swing, just some little things."

By the time the team arrived in Burlington, Starling and his teammates were pumped up about starting the season. "There was so much adrenaline when we stepped on the field [for the first practice]," he said. "We're ready to be here and we're ready to have some fans watching."

To be sure, throughout the Kansas City organization they'll be monitoring the 6-foot-4 player who's described as one of the most decorated high school athletes in Kansas history. "He needs to be in there every night and he needs to play," Shields said. "He hasn't played a whole lot of baseball. He wasn't playing 100 games of baseball every year. He's still learning the game.

"It's going to be a good test for him. He'll have his ups and downs just like all the other young players in this league."

Starling is the first first-round Draft pick assigned to Burlington since the city's affiliation began with the Royals in 2007. He's joined by catcher Cam Gallagher, a second-round selection last year, and pitcher Colin Rodgers, a third-round draftee this month.

Trophy talk

The Johnson City Cardinals will start the season with another celebration of an Appalachian League championship. But that's not the only hardware that will be on display.

The parent St. Louis Cardinals are sending the World Series trophy for the season-opening series when Johnson City plays host to the Greeneville Astros on the first three nights of the season.

"Having it Opening Day is even better," Johnson City general manager Chuck Arnold said. "Obviously, we want the whole organization to be successful. It was a great year for the organization overall. We're going to cherish that and hopefully get another one."

If so, it will be done under the direction of a new manager. Oliver Marmol is taking charge after Mike Shildt directed Johnson City to league titles in 2010 and 2011. Doug White remains the Johnson City pitching coach and Ramon Ortiz is back as hitting coach.

Princeton's popular picks

Tampa Bay's stockpiling of draft picks will show up with the Princeton Rays this summer. Shortstop Brandon Martin, a first-round selection (38th overall) in 2011, and outfielder Granden Goetzman, a second-round selection last year, are among the headliners.

Princeton manager Michael Johns said Martin has improved defensively and is pegged for a spot at the top of the batting order. Goetzman has sharpened his skills and he's "really strong -- he looks like a football player," Johns said.

Catcher Oscar Hernandez, an 18-year-old defensive whiz from Venezuela, and outfielder James Harris Jr., a first-rounder (60th overall) in 2011, add to Princeton's talented crop of youth. John Alexander, a 19-year-old first baseman who was picked in the eighth round last year, also falls into that category.

A pair of left-handers on the mound with Blake Snell, a first-round (52nd overall) from last year, and Kevin James, a 2009 draftee taking another shot as he moves from the bullpen to the starting rotation, should be worth watching, too.

I know you

It was what amounted to a chance meeting when Pete Rose Jr. headed toward the first-base coaching box and made a slight detour to greet Johns. It was two Appalachian League managers at a Triple-A game in Durham, N.C. The get-together came a month before the Appalachian League season was set to start. Rose was on board for a stint with the Charlotte Knights before taking charge of the Bristol Sox again. Johns was spending a homestand with the Durham Bulls, carrying duties as third-base coach for a series while waiting for his next gig with the Princeton Rays to begin.

Johns said it was a good week with the top farm team in the organization. "They moved some coaches out of extended to give [us] a breather and it was great to be around another team and see all that," he said.

Their Appalachian League teams will meet during the second week of the season at Bristol but not again until Princeton's final homestand in August.

Last things last

  • Last season's championship: Johnson City over Bluefield in two games MiLB.com Coverage »
  • Last back-to-back champion: Elizabethton Twins, 2007-08
  • Last no-hitter: Tim Shibuya, Garrett Jewell, Steven Gruver, Elizabethton vs. Greeneville, July 16, 2011 MiLB.com Coverage »
  • Last cycle: Elmer Reyes, Danville at Princeton, Aug. 5, 2011 MiLB.com Coverage »
  • Last three-homer game: William Beckwith, Danville vs. Burlington, Aug. 14, 2011 MiLB.com Coverage »

Bob Sutton is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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