Starling Shines On The Diamond
Prized quarterback recruit also a baseball star
Immensely talented athletes who excel both on the baseball field and under center on the gridiron are certainly nothing new. That pedigree includes a list of players like Colorado's Todd Helton, Washington's Adam Dunn, and more recently, 2010 first-round picks Kyle Parker and Zach Lee. It appears the fraternity will welcome another member next year when outfielder Bubba Starling joins its ranks.
Starling, who has been listed as high as the third-best class-of-2011 prep quarterback by college football recruiting Web sites and drew interest from several top-flight programs, is also one of the best baseball players in the country, possessing true five-tool talent.
Growing up, baseball was always his favorite sport, but the opportunity to play quarterback in college has lured him closer to football.
"It used to be just baseball, but after my junior season I got all these offers (to play Division I football), so now I kind of like football a lot too," he said.
After being wooed by schools such as Nebraska, Notre Dame, Kansas and Alabama, Starling committed to the Cornhuskers.
"It was a fun process, but it got kind of stressful," Starling said. "I'm happy to get my decision out of the way. But like I said, it was fun getting to visit all these places and getting to meet all the coaches that you see on TV."
One of the determining factors for Starling was Nebraska's willingness to allow him to play both football and baseball.
"It was a big factor," Starling said. "Also, they're nice and close. They're only about three hours from where I live. I really like both coaching staffs and they really had a great plan for me. It balanced out where I thought I could be successful at Nebraska."
In addition to his baseball and football talent, Starling is also a standout basketball player at Gardner-Edgerton High in Gardner, Kan.
"It's pretty tough playing all three and also keeping up with grades," Starling said. "But it's fun because it keeps me going and it makes me keep working hard. It takes away time from hanging out with friends and just being a kid, but I like to compete in every sport."
Starling has a good chance to be selected in the first round of next year's draft, which would force him to make a big decision about whether to sign a baseball contract or continue to Nebraska. For now, Starling is doing his best not to focus on that yet.
"Everyone talks about that situation," Starling said. "Of course there are going to be some dollars involved and stuff like that, but I don't think about that right now. When it comes time, I'm going to have to start talking about it."
At 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, Starling has the projectable body of a corner outfielder. He also has the offensive tools and has shown an ability to hit for average and power. In 62 at-bats with the Team USA 18U National Team this summer, Starling hit .339/.474/.532 with three homers. Earlier in the summer, he caught the eye of scouts at the Tournament of Stars, where he went 5-for-12 with two triples and three stolen bases.
Though he has never received any formal pitching training, Starling has the raw ability of a top-of-the-line starter. His fastball sits in the low 90s and he also posseses a solid curveball, all of which makes him perhaps the best two-way player in his draft class.
"I've had a few people say I need to work on this," Starling said. "And I'm just like, 'Well, I've never had anyone to teach me any of it.' I think I can do a little bit better pitching if I have someone help me out."
Team USA originally planned to use Starling as an extra outfielder and additional arm out of the bullpen this summer, but he performed well enough to earn the starting nod in centerfield.
"It got my name out there more," Starling said. "Scouts were a little iffy about who I was and what I could do, but I kind of showed them a little of what I can do."
Starling also participated in the Under Armour All-America Game powered by Baseball Factory. He went 0-for-2 with a walk, but put on a show in batting practice. He also pitched an inning, allowing a single while striking out three. He sat 90-92 mph with his fastball and touched 93. His curveball was 76-78.
But what Starling can do now barely scratches the surface of his potential. His game is still raw and he has a tendency to rely solely on his upper body both on the mound and at the plate. Team USA hitting coach and former major league outfielder Brian McRae worked with Starling on using his lower half over the summer. He saw enough progress that McRae would draft him as a centerfielder, rather than a pitcher.
"I wouldn't waste someone with his speed in centerfield and his power potential on the hill," McRae said.
Starling's blazing speed is another tool that stand outs, which is rare in a player his size.
"You look at the kid being 6-foot-5," said Starling's high school coach Jerald VanRheen. "You can probably project that he throws the ball well, he's got a big hitter's body, but when you look at him you don't say, 'Holy cow, he's a 6.6 sixty runner.' The fact that he's got that is a huge asset for him."
As if his enormous talent wasn't enough, Starling also has strong makeup. He has a solid work ethic and understands the importance of always working to improve his game. He is also very humble, a trait that caught VanRheen's eye.
"One of the most impressive things about him is he's just so humble," VanRheen said. "He's not a kid who's going to talk about what he's going to do in a game and say, 'I'm going to go 4-for-4 and steal three bags.' He just goes out and plays. He understands how good he is, but he doesn't rub that in anyone's face."
The whole package makes Starling a coach's dream, and since VanRheen has just one year left with him, he plans on sitting back and savoring it.
"He's one of those once-in-a-lifetime athletes that you just have to appreciate what he does and enjoy the time you have with him."