The story of Bubba Starling has evolved into a Midwestern myth over the course of his high school career at Edgerton (Kan.). To hear it told, the lanky 6’5”, 195-pound two-sport star was Paul Bunyan with a wood bat in his hands at the plate and a blue ox in pads bulldozing defenders on the gridiron for the Blazers.
But Starling is not an ordinary small town tall tale; he is arguably the most accomplished high school athlete of the past decade. In a YouTube world where little goes unseen and even less is never-before-seen, Starling stands out as a human highlight reel with off-the-charts potential in both baseball and football.
Starling was selected No. 5 overall in the MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals — a club located just over 30 minutes from his hometown of Gardner, Kan. He was also the Gatorade Kansas Player of the Year and U.S. Army All-American as a quarterback, and has signed a Letter of Intent to play for the Nebraska Cornhuskers this fall.
Now, the 18-year-old is left with a decision that will send shockwaves from Kansas City, Mo., to Lincoln, Neb. Everyone wants to know what Derek “Bubba” Starling’s next move is.
Baseball America’s top-ranked high school prospect has a chance to become the face of a Royals franchise that infamously passed over K.C.-area product Albert Pujols back in 1999.
And as the No. 5 overall pick, Starling is in line for a big payday. The MLB-suggested slot-value bonus for the pick is roughly $2.5 million. However, three years ago Buster Posey received a $6.2-million bonus after the Giants took him at No. 5 overall.
Factoring in the local politics, other options and high profile of the situation, Bubba will be closer to Buster money than slot value — which would be hard for anyone to pass up. But money can’t buy what Starling would be signing away by turning pro in 2011 — rather than, say, 2014.
“Bubba” has a chance to become a one-name icon in Nebraska, like “Tebow” is in Florida or “Vince” is in Texas. He can follow in the footsteps of Frazier, Crouch, Frost and Gill; bask in B.M.O.C. status and cornfed coeds; and still play baseball for new coach Darin Erstad in the spring, after he’s done going all out for Bo Pelini in the fall.
No college baseball coach in the country is better prepared to mentor Starling than Erstad, himself a two-sport star in Lincoln not so long ago.
Erstad was the starting punter on Tom Osborne’s 1994 national title-winning Huskers squad before being named the 1995 Golden Spikes Award winner as an outfielder on NU’s baseball team.
After a successful ironman stint in Cornhusker country, Erstad was the No. 1 overall pick of the California Angels in the 1995 MLB Draft. Over his 14-year career in the bigs, Erstad was a three-time Gold Glove outfielder, a two-time All-Star and a World Series champion in 2002.
If anyone can give Starling insight on how juggle two sports at the highest collegiate level — as well as the benefits and potential pitfalls of doing so — it is Erstad.
Osborne and Pelini will pull out all of the recruiting stops, no doubt. But it is Erstad who shares the most in common with Starling and whose opinion should carry the most credibility.
Starling went 33–4 as a starting quarterback in high school — rushing for 2,377 yards (on 13.2 ypc) and 31 TDs, while passing for 790 yards and eight TDs as a senior; and rushing for 1,381 yards and 19 TDs, while passing for 1,433 yards, 18 TDs and six INTs as a junior — and has the potential to be a fan favorite at Memorial Stadium.
However, the tools-iest outfielder in the draft is represented by diabolical uber-agent Scott Boras, who will look to set a new Royals’ record for signing bonus — which currently sits at a cool $6 million, given to No. 2 overall pick Eric Hosmer in 2008. But this is not news; K.C. general manager Dayton Moore knew he was signing a $6-plus-million check when he wrote Starling’s name down and turned it in to Commissioner Bud Selig on Monday night.
Starling has until 11:59 p.m. August 15 to decide whether he wants to be the next Bo Jackson — who won the 1985 Heisman Trophy after hitting .401 with 17 HRs for Auburn the previous spring — or the next Carl Crawford — who chose minor league baseball and big-league riches over Nebraska athletics in 1999.
The ball(s) is in Bubba’s court — and field, and diamond. It’s Starling’s decision to make; fans wearing Royal blue or Big Red can only hope their dream prospect comes true.
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