KANSAS CITY -- Outfielder Bubba Starling, the fifth overall pick of the 2011 Draft and considered a disappointment until recently, keeps inching closer to the big leagues.
Starling, the Royals' No. 5 prospect, is having a solid season in the Arizona Fall League, posting a .770 OPS with four homers and 10 RBIs to go along with his defense that general manager Dayton Moore has described as "Major League ready" right now.
Starling, 23, most likely will start next season back at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. But the goal is to have him advance quickly to Triple-A Omaha and then to his Major League debut in 2016.
And by 2017?
"Hopefully a regular in the big leagues," Royals vice president/assistant general manager of player personnel J.J. Picollo told MLB.com.
The rapid ascension of Starling has brought smiles to the faces of the Royals' front-office staff.
"He's just a different hitter now than what we saw of him a few years ago," Picollo said. "There haven't been many major mechanical adjustments. He did have this little waggle with his hands when he was loading that used to slow down his swing and made him late on everything.
"We worked with him to get rid of that, and finally last year we saw that happen. He's just quicker to the ball. He's more confident, more mature."
After being promoted to Double-A this past season, Starling had a .744 OPS there with 10 homers and 32 RBIs in 91 games for the Naturals.
"You combine that with what he did in the Fall League," Picollo said, "and 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."
Another prospect who had a strong AFL was right-hander Brooks Pounders, a 6-foot-5, 268-pounder who was acquired in a Minor League deal with the Pirates in 2011.
Pounders threw 12 shutout innings over three starts in the AFL and had a 0.42 WHIP.
Pounders presently is pitching for Team USA in Tokyo, where he is joined by two Royals prospects, catcher Parker Morin and outfielder Brett Eibner.
"Brooks really is having a great fall," Picollo said. "He's a guy that can throw 91-93 [mph] consistently and go find 95 when he needs it. His slider is his out-pitch.
"Right now, we view him as a potential starter, but he could be one of those guys that if converted to the bullpen, he could go get 95-97 [mph]."
Jeffrey Flanagan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FlannyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.