Kansas City, Mo. 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 home town Royals with the fifth overall selection in the baseball draft on Monday night.
The highest-drafted player in Kansas City area history, the 6-5, 200-pound outfielder will wield serious leverage in contract negotiations.
He’s signed to play quarterback at Nebraska, and the Cornhuskers have promised he’ll also be allowed to play baseball.
If he chooses baseball, he could command a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $6 million to $8 million.
“There’s a lot of options for the future as far as possibly signing or going up to Nebraska,” Starling said. “I’ve still got a lot of stuff to figure out. But I’m just trying to enjoy my moment with my family and enjoy tonight.”
He first caught the Royals’ attention when he was about 14 and already performing eye-popping feats in every sport he tried.
“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 pick up a bat. When he was 8 years old playing in a recreation league, parents complained to Jimbo Starling they were worried that 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 RBIs and 20 runs scored.
But 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 with Nebraska.
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 that he had no inkling about whether Starling would choose college football or professional baseball.
“Nope,” Pelini wrote. “Nothin I can do about it!”
The reporting date for football practice at Nebraska is July 10. He’ll have until Aug. 15 to sign with the Royals.
“I’m going to have to talk with my family and stuff,” Starling said. “When it comes closer, we’re going to figure that stuff out. This is a special time. Not many kids get drafted in the first round and have a chance to have this opportunity.”
Starling, in a conference call with Kansas City media, said he would have trouble picking which sport was his best.
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.”