The tools have always been there. And now that Bubba Starling is fully healthy, they’re all on display.
The 26-year-old Omaha outfielder, a former first-round draft pick, is in the midst of his best professional season to date. Heading into the all-star break, he leads all full-season Kansas City minor leaguers with a .310 batting average.
Starling was selected to represent the Storm Chasers on the Pacific Coast League squad at the 32nd annual Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday at Southwest University Park in El Paso, Texas. It will be the first all-star experience at any level for the eighth-year pro, whose career has been marred by injuries since he chose pro baseball over a football scholarship from Nebraska in 2011.
“All the work I’ve put in the offseason the last few years, it turned around and I was getting hurt,” he said. “I can finally put it all together, go to El Paso and represent the Storm Chasers. It’s pretty sweet.”
Sign up for World-Herald daily sports updates
Get the headlines from Creighton, Nebraska, UNO, high schools and other area teams.
Starling arrived in Omaha just before the all-star break in 2016. But this is the first time since then that he’s reached the date of the Triple-A All-Star Game in fair health. He’s suffered four injuries to the oblique muscles along the side of the abdomen. He missed nearly all of last season.
“He’s grown as a player and as an individual in his time in Omaha,” said Martie Cordaro, the Storm Chasers’ president and general manager. “We’re really excited to see where his career is going to go. This is the first year he’s stayed healthy from day one through this point of the season. I think he’s proving that his athletic ability can translate into production on the field.”
Starling was removed from the Royals’ 40-man roster after playing only 20 games, 11 with the Chasers, last year because of injury. After re-signing with Kansas City as a free agent in December, he’s bounced back with a stellar effort in which he’s tied with infielder Erick Mejia for the team lead with 38 RBIs.
“Hopefully, I can keep it that way,” Starling said. “I’ll just keep showing up, playing hard and getting my work in every day. And staying healthy, that’s the main thing. Hopefully, results will happen from there.”
The Gardner, Kansas, native is coming off a recent stretch in which he posted five consecutive two-hit games. In one of those contests, played at Round Rock, Starling homered twice and drove in five runs. He’s recorded 25 multihit games, the most of any Omaha player. He’s hit well with runners on base. And he ranks fourth in the PCL in outfield assists.
Starling was the clear-cut choice among position players to represent the Chasers in El Paso this week.
“It means a lot for me,” he said. “I went through hell and back. And here I am in July, healthy and having some fun with my teammates. That’s all I can do, pretty much. I’ve just got to keep showing the front office, Royals and everyone, what I can do and keep being on the field.”
Starling’s name won’t appear on any Kansas City prospect list at this stage of his career. But his well-rounded skill set may eventually get him a shot in the majors.
The Royals would have to make room on their extended roster to call Starling up. They are expected to be active at the upcoming trade deadline, meaning some personnel shuffling should come.
If Starling’s day indeed arrives, he feels he’s put in the work to make the most of that opportunity.
“I’ve never been more ready or felt more ready for the big leagues,” he said. “I’ve waited eight or nine years. I’ve lost count of how many years I’ve been in the minors now. It’d mean a lot, not only for me but my family. They’ve been through the hard times and stuck by me. They’ve been there at my least best. They’ve been there for the best of the best. They’ve been through everything so it would be special.”
1 of 147
April 21, 1969: Galen Cisco, left, and Jack McKeon of the Omaha Royals.
Aug. 27, 1969: The Omaha Royals' first manager, Jack McKeon, celebrates. McKeon led the Chasers to back-to-back American Association titles in the franchise's first two years. McKeon would eventually lead the Florida Marlins to a World Series in 2003.
April 18, 1970: Former Nebraska coach Bob Devaney throws out the season's first pitch at the Omaha Royals game at Rosenblatt Stadium.
May 31, 1970: Paul Splitteroff at Rosenblatt Stadium.
1970: Omaha's Juan Rios slides home safely behind Wichita catcher Ken Suarez, as Omaha's Steve McMillan looks on at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Jan. 21, 1971: Former major league infielder Loren Babe, left, with Omaha Royals manager Jack McKeon.
An Omaha Royals team photo from 1970 and other minutia collected from the remains of Rosenblatt Stadium. The photo was taken June 8, 2012.
1972: Steve Busby, Omaha Royals pitcher.
April 12, 1972: Jack McKeon at Rosenblatt Stadium.
April 6, 1973: Frank White poses for a photo at Rosenblatt Stadium.
1973: Future Baseball Hall of Fame member George Brett poses for a photo at Rosenblatt Stadium.
June 29, 1977: Clint Hurdle at Rosenblatt Stadium.
April 2, 1979: Jim Bayly sweeps snow 11 days before the season opener at Rosenblatt.
1980: Omaha Royals pitcher Eddie Bane.
July 7, 1980: Steve Busby delivers a pitch.
April 4, 1992: Jeff Conine poses for a photo.
1982: Bombo Rivera, Omaha Royals.
May 19, 1983: Omaha Royals General Manager Bill Gorman poses for a photo in front of Rosenblatt Stadium.
1984: The San Diego chicken mascot entertains fans at Rosenblatt.
1984: Gene Lamont, Omaha Royals manager.
1985: Rob Crain, assistant general manager of the Storm Chasers, with team autographed baseballs from the 1985 Royals baseball team.
April 17, 1985: David Cone sports an Omaha Royals hat and a Kansas City Royals jacket at Rosenblatt Stadium.
April 26, 1985: City employee Terry Cuevas spreads mixture of solvent and gasoline on the infield at Rosenblatt Stadium as part of an effort to dry the field enough to cover it with a tarp. The tarp wasn't laid on the field the two previous nights and got soaked in an overnight rainfall. The Omaha Royals were unable to play the game scheduled with the Iowa Cubs.
June 29, 1985: Guitarist Michael Woods of the rock band "America," which played at Rosenblatt Stadium following the Omaha Royals game with the Oklahoma 89ers.
May 10, 1985: Fans in the crowd seek autographs from Kansas City players.
Aug. 8, 1986: Gus Cherry, Mayor Mike Boyle and Jack Diesing break ground for the Stadium Club at Rosenblatt Stadium.
May 28, 1988: Organist Lambert Bartak at Rosenblatt Stadium.
May 5, 1989: CBS pro football analyst John Madden tries on an Omaha Royals cap.
Aug. 16, 1990: Omaha Royals manager Sal Rende gets a face full of cake from first baseman Russ Morman after winning the league title.
Sept. 5, 1991: Construction takes place at Rosenblatt Stadium.
1991: The final signing of the ownership papers for the Omaha Royals. Seated from left: John Boyer, Bill Gorman, Joe Adams, Mary Ann Luby. Standing from left, Rob Knight, Bill Ulrich, Jim Hildreth and Lary Wzorek. Boyer is the attorney for Walter Scott who bought a major share in the team. Gorman is the Royals' GM.
April 16, 1991: The day before the Royals open, Richard Sovereign of Sovereign Painting adds a coat of blue to the patio concession stand.
May 17, 1993: Workmen for JB Construction hurry to finish the new parking lots by Rosenblatt along 13th Street.
April 1993: Warren Buffett throws out first pitch for the Omaha Royals home opener at Rosenblatt stadium.
March 17, 1992: James Huettner welds handicap ramps.
March 13, 1992: Pictured is the South side of Rosenblatt Stadium.
April 16, 1992: The Goodrich family, from left, Nate, Barbara, Ben, Chris, 12 and Paul enjoy a game.
May 25, 1993: Rance Ristau, 3, looks like he had a good time finishing off his cotton candy during an Omaha Royals afternoon game at Rosenblatt Stadium. But Rance, son of Dan and Cynthia Ristau, saw the Royals drop an 8-5 decision to Nashville.
April 3, 1993: Scott Knight puts down new cinders in left field in front of new scoreboard.
Aug. 2, 1994: Aerial view of Rosenblatt Stadium from a helicopter.
May 25, 1994: Grounds crew removes a tarp after a rain delay.
April 29, 1995: Warren Buffett throws out the first pitch.
April 4, 1996: Warren Buffett throws out another first pitch.
May 4, 1996: Warren Buffett greets fans at an Omaha Royals game.
1999: The Omaha Royals unveil a new nickname for the team, the Golden Spikes, which is worn by mascot Casey.
June 9, 1998: Omaha's Mendy Lopez and Calgary's Lou Frazier watch the ball sale by on Frazier's successful steal of second base.
1998: Omaha Royals shortstop Felix Martinez, who was sent down from Kansas City in the aftermath of brawl with Anaheim, sits on the bench.
1998: Omaha Royals infielder Scott Leius plays at Rosenblatt with his son Michael, 2.
1998: Warren Buffett prepares to throw out the first pitch.
1998: Omaha Royals right fielder Chris Hatcher is greeted at the dugout after hitting a grand slam.
1998: Jermaine Dye, Omaha Royals.
1998: Albuquerque's David Steed is out at second base by Omaha's Steve Sisco.
Aug. 30, 1998: Mayor Hal Daub swings a mock sledge hammer at a golden spike that is held by the Omaha Royals' mascot, Casey, launching the teams new name, the Golden Spikes. The Lincoln Sport Parachute Club jumped into the stadium carrying a banner with the new name on it.
1999: Casey sports the new Golden Spikes uniform.
1999: Omaha Spikes' Sal Fasano, right, is congratulated by Ron Johnson after hitting a home run.
1999: Omaha manager Ron Johnson dines on food at home plate of Rosenblatt Stadium.
1999: Front left, Bart Thomsen, and Rick English, back left, Mike Bischof, Kent Therkelsen, Lance Beasley pose for a photo.
Sept. 6, 1999: Omaha Golden Spikes manager Ron Johnson wears a Nebraska football helmet while coaching third base.
Sept. 6, 1999: Golden Spikes pitcher Scott Mullen delivers.
1999: Manager Ron Johnson, front, talks about practice routine to players at Golden Spikes media day at Rosenblatt Stadium.
The 1999 Omaha Golden Spikes. Top to bottom, left to right, Carlos Mendez, Henry Mercedes, Alvin Morman, Jimmie Byington, Jed Hansen, Mark Quinn, Ray Holbert, Dario Veras, Mendy Lopez.
1999: Omaha's Jimmie Byington turns a double play on Albuquerque.
1999: The Omaha Golden Spikes work out at Rosenblatt Stadium. Left, Mendy Lopez, and right, Henry Mercedes.
1999: Warren Buffett and Ernie Banks kid around before throwing out the first pitch at the Golden Spikes baseball game.
2000: Omaha Golden Spikes play a doubleheader with Memphis.
2000: Omaha third baseman Kevin Orie.
2000: Catcher Hector Ortiz with pitcher Jeff Austin.
June 23, 2000: Chris Costello and the Rosenblatt grounds crew hustled in with the tarp as steady rains delayed the game.
Aug. 16, 2001: Betsy Olson, left, watches as her golden retriever Zach sniffs out Ranger, Amber Green's boxer during the Golden Spikes game at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Aug. 16, 2001: After escaping the kennel and heading to the park, Brandi, the schnoodle in the jail-break costume, waits in the concession line with Shelli Willcoxon, left, and Shawn Willcoxon, center, during the Golden Spikes game.