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Big league debut for Bubba Starling possible in 2016; Brian Duensing signs with Royals

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Big-league debut for Bubba Starling possible in 2016

Bubba Starling, shown here in 2012, should make his long-awaited debut for the Omaha Storm Chasers this season.


Omaha Storm Chasers play-by-play announcer Mark Nasser gets asked all the time — when will Bubba Starling get called up?

The short-lived Husker quarterback turned Royals first-round draft pick is closer than ever to finally playing within Nebraska’s borders. He’s on Kansas City’s 40-man roster as the Royals start spring training, and he recently had a successful stint in the Arizona Fall League for top prospects.

"We hope to see Bubba at some point this year,” Nasser said during an appearance on “The Bottom Line.” “I expect him to probably start in Double-A, but if he starts to hit right away, we could see him being one of those first call-ups.”

Starling began 2015 at High-A Wilmington before getting the call up to Double-A Northwest Arkansas after 12 games. He played in 91 games for the Naturals, hitting .254 with a .744 OPS, 32 RBIs and 10 homers. He also had a perfect fielding percentage with three outfield assists.

He followed that with 22 games for the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .274 with four home runs and 10 RBIs.

Now Starling is considered one of the Royals' top prospects. Baseball America ranked him No. 3 in the organization behind shortstop Raul A. Mondesi and right-handed pitcher Kyle Zimmer. He didn’t crack BA’s Top 100 overall prospects, but he did appear on the ballot of at least one voter.

In a January chat with fans, the Kansas City Star’s Rustin Dodd said this: “The Royals appear open to the idea that Starling could make his big-league debut this season. His defense, according to reports, is already major-league ready.”

In an interview earlier this month with a Kansas City sports radio stadion, Royals manager Ned Yost said Starling is “probably” the best all-around athlete in the organization, but that he’s still a year away from the majors.

Royals vice president/assistant general manager of player personnel J.J. Picollo told the MLB website in November the goal is for Starling to be an MLB regular by 2017. "He's just a different hitter now than what we saw of him a few years ago," Picollo said. “You can see him turning a corner. He'll get a Spring Training invite and we'll see how it proceeds from there. He's getting close."

The Royals have 10 outfielders, including Starling, on the 40-man roster as spring training starts. In January, they signed both Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon to new deals. Cain’s will take him through the 2017 season.

Baseball America writer JJ Cooper wrote in a chat last month that Cain and Gordon are locked in as big league outfielders. Veterans Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando will likely be KC’s third and fourth outfielders, but then behind them, Starling could be the guy atop the organization’s pecking order in center field.

Brett Eibner, Reymond Fuentes and Lane Adams are the Royals’ other center field prospects to watch in competition with Starling this spring, according to BA.

Based on all that, it seems certain Starling will make his Omaha debut at some point this season, whether he opens the year here or not. A major league debut could also be in the cards in 2016, but 2017 appears to be the year KC wants Starling in the bigs for good.

For more on Starling, check out this video from MLB Prospect Portal:

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In other Royals news, KC signed former Husker pitcher Brian Duensing to a minor-league deal Thursday. Duensing, a Millard South graduate, spent the last seven seasons with the Minnesota Twins, the last three exclusively as a reliever.

Duensing made 55 appearances for the Twins in 2015, pitching 48⅔ innings with a 4.25 ERA and 24 strikeouts.

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