Kansas City Royals call up 2011 first-round draft pick Bubba Starling

Bubba Starling, who hit .310 for the Storm Chasers during the first half of the season, will be with Kansas City as it opens up its second half with a home series with Detroit at Kauffman Stadium.

With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star Game in El Paso, Bubba Starling tracked down a fly ball off the bat of Toledo’s Willi Castro in right field.

The Omaha outfielder completed the catch that wrapped up the Pacific Coast League’s 9-3 victory over the International League at Southwest University Park, then lofted the baseball toward a crowd of fans.

It was a fitting finish to Starling’s long journey through the minor leagues. Kansas City’s first-round pick in the 2011 MLB draft will join the big league Royals for the first time coming out of the All-Star break.

Starling, who hit .310 for the Storm Chasers during the first half of the season, will be with Kansas City as it opens up its second half with a home series with Detroit at Kauffman Stadium. The MLB debut comes in the eighth season of professional baseball for the former Nebraska football recruit from Gardner, Kansas.

“I’ve never been more ready or felt more ready for the big leagues,” Starling said before heading to the first all-star game of his career. The former multisport star from Gardner Edgerton High has off-the-charts athletic ability, but his baseball career has been marred by injury and offensive inconsistency.

The 26-year-old Starling owns a career .244 batting average after more than 2,500 minor league plate appearances, but he’s been hitting at nearly a .300 clip for Omaha since May 2017. Injuries derailed the end of that season and limited him to just 20 games in 2018. Now healthy, he’s had a breakout 2019.

Starling’s .310 average leads all full-season players in Kansas City’s farm system. He’s had a team-best 25 multihit games for the Chasers, including five in a row in a recent stretch in which he went 10 for 20 at the plate. He’s thrived this season with runners on base and excelled when they are in scoring position.

A promotion seemed imminent, even though the Royals removed Starling from their 40-man roster after last season. He could’ve chosen to sign with another organization but elected to re-up with Kansas City.

“There might have been an opportunity somewhere else, but I really respect (Assistant GM) J.J. (Picollo), (GM) Dayton Moore and (Assistant GM) Scott Sharp for having patience with me and the injuries I went through,” he said. “There’s no other organization that treats players like this. I was happy to sign back.”

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The Royals lured Starling to baseball with a $7.5 million signing bonus in 2011 after selecting him with the fifth overall pick in the draft. It was the club record until their recent deal with teen Bobby Witt Jr.

Scouts have long said that Starling was a major league outfielder defensively, but his high strikeout percentage and inconsistent hitting over the years had many thinking he’d never make it to the majors.

Kansas City announced Thursday that he’d be added to their active roster before Friday night’s game.

“I’ve just got to keep showing up and doing what I’m doing,” Starling said. “Obviously, people have labeled me in the past as a bust or whatnot. I don’t look at that. I just look at what I can do moving forward, showing up every day to get better. That’s what I’ve been doing. And it’s been paying off.”

Starling has kept a positive mindset since returning to Omaha for a fourth season. He joined the Chasers in 2016 after a midseason promotion from Double- A Northwest Arkansas, where he was struggling. Last month at Werner, he spoke openly of his shaken confidence at the time of his first arrival.

“Man, three years ago, I would show up for an at-bat, see a first pitch and just swing, not knowing where it was,” he said. “I was scared of failure. And I’d get two strikes, and almost every time it was a strikeout.

“Showing up to the park every day, it was taxing on me. It was just a rough year. I know that I’m this type of player, but I can’t get out of that slump. It was almost like I was going to go 0 for 4 every day.”

Starling admitted that he thought about giving up on baseball at the end of that season. He credited his family, teammates and coaches for getting him through a rough time. After getting off to a slow start in April 2017, Starling turned his season — and, perhaps, career — around with a 12-game hitting streak in May. He’s been one of the better players in the PCL ever since, earning his way to the majors Thursday.

“The support I have around me with my family and teammates and coaching staff have made me keep continuing to show up every day, try to have fun and work hard at it,” he said. “That’s what’s helped me through it all. The support I have around me is what makes it fun showing up to the field every day.”