By ADAM DROVETTA, GardnerEdge.com
After a seemingly endless stint in extended spring training, Kansas City Royals 2011 first round pick and Gardner-Edgerton graduate Bubba Starling is set for his minor league baseball debut for the Royals’ rookie ball affiliate in Burlington, North Carolina.
“We’re excited,” said Burlington Royals General Manager Ben Abzug, “We knew for a while that it was going to be a possibility that we could get him. We got some indication from the Royals that this would be a likely next step for him."
According to Abzug, Burlington’s club is no stranger to major prospects. Two of the greatest power hitters in baseball history, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, played minor league ball in Burlington when the club was an affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.
“It’s been a couple of years since we’ve had a big name prospect like [Bubba] and I think it really excites people around here to see that sort of prospect start off in Burlington and, hopefully, work his way up,” Abzug said.
Two former Burlington Royals are currently on the roster in Kansas City. Catcher Salvador Perez and pitcher Kelvin Herrera were both among the first to play in Burlington when the club’s affiliation with the Royals began.
Abzug said that prospects like Starling help expand the local interest in the Burlington Royals.
One of the men in charge of helping Starling and the rest of the prospects in Burlington succeed down the road is manager Tommy Shields, who says one of the biggest parts of coaching minor league players is teaching them how to get used to the mental aspect of the game as much as the physical.
“I think today, especially with the world of Twitter and the Internet and everything like that, these kids are very aware of who is playing in front of them, what guys at what positions are in front of them, what guys are doing at the higher levels and I think that can be very dangerous. We have enough to worry about as players where we’re at,” said Shields, “. That’s one of the messages that I’ll try to relay to the kids this summer.”
Shields added that the day-to-day grind is something that proves to be a major adjustment for young players. The Burlington Royals will have just four off days from their first exhibition game on June 17th until the end of the regular season on August 28th.
“Even these guys who were college players who have played a lot more than Bubba, they haven’t played seven games a week. Teaching them to stay level headed, to not get too emotional after each at bat, to try to figure out how to stay upbeat and optimistic…This game is such a game of failure that if you dwell on the fact that you’re 0-for-1, it’s going to make the second at-bat that much more difficult. Guys like Derek Jeter…they’re optimistic. When he’s 0-for-1, he knows he’s going to go 1-for-2…That mindset can really help in the day to day grind that they’re going to go through this summer,” he said.
After working with Starling during extended spring training, Shields and his coaching staff are already aware of some of the things they plan on having the center fielder work on this summer.
“I think from a defensive standpoint, Bubba is pretty advanced. He tracks the ball exceptionally well in center field. That’s an innate ability,” Shields said, “At some point, we’ll have to curtail when he wants to throw guys out all the time instead of maybe throwing to the correct base to keep a double play in order. That came up once down here but, really, defensively he’s ahead of the game.”
“Offensively,” he continued, “he’s still learning his swing, he’s still learning what pitches to hit and lay off. Getting him to utilize right-center to left-center instead of constantly pulling the ball is going to be a big thing, it’s going to be something we’ll work on.”
Shields says that how his players play on the field is just part of what he oversees. He says that he’s also concerned with helping his players adjust to living away from home for the first time.
“It’s my job and the staff’s job to stay on top of how they’re doing. How’s the laundry going? Are they getting up in the morning and eating? A lot of the young kids, their first year playing, they get in a routine where they sleep all morning, they get up at noon, they eat one meal, they go to the ballpark… that’s a recipe for getting very tired, getting mentally and emotionally fatigued.”
Starling’s road to Kansas City begins on Father’s Day as the Burlington Royals start off their season with an exhibition game against Kernersville on Sunday, June 17th at 5:00 p.m. Central Time.