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KC takes local star Starling in first round

KC takes local star Starling in first round

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KC takes local star Starling in first round
KANSAS CITY -- Dayton Moore, the Royals' general manager, made it clear last week as he talked about the First-Year Player Draft. "We don't want to get beat in our own backyard," he said.

Well, fire up the grill, we're expecting Bubba Starling to come by. He lives in the neighborhood, you know.

The Royals made Starling, a right-handed power-hitting high school center fielder from Gardner, Kan., the fifth selection in the first round of the Draft on Monday night. Already an athlete of legendary proportions in the town of about 20,000, the Royals want the legend to continue at Kauffman Stadium.

"I knew whatever team got me, it would be pretty special," Starling, 18, said. "The Royals drafted me, and I'm blessed. There are a lot of options for the future."

If the stories are true, the 6-foot-5, 193-pound Starling could hit 500-foot home runs, run like a gazelle and throw like Bob Feller.

"We got the player we wanted, we got the most electric athlete and player in the Draft and it just happened to be in our backyard as well," said Lonnie Goldberg, the Royals' director of scouting.

The biggest reasons for taking Starling?

"Obviously, his athleticism and probably his competitiveness and his desire to be a Royal as well, so it fit all of our needs," Goldberg said.

Starling is called a five-tool player. His best tool?

"He's got raw power, he's got speed, he's got a plus arm," Goldberg said. "You name it, pick one. He's got a lot of them."

If he signs and develops quickly, he could be a right-handed power piece between the emerging left-handed bats of first baseman Eric Hosmer, already in Kansas City, and third baseman Mike Moustakas, who's on his way.

With agent Scott Boras as his advisor, Starling could prove expensive to sign. Another factor is he has a scholarship to play football at the University of Nebraska, where he could be a quarterback and also play baseball.

"As far as possibly signing or going up to Nebraska, I've still got a lot of stuff to figure out," Starling said in a conference call from home. "Right now, I'm just trying to enjoy my moment with my family and just have fun tonight."

But Moore is confident that the Royals can persuade Starling to play pro baseball.

"Guys that love to play and want to play, sign," Moore said.

Starling, who lives just 30 miles from Kauffman Stadium, has the potential to be a great draw in Kansas City. His selection also could help erase the long-standing discontent, or maybe disbelief, around town over the Royals fanning on local talent Albert Pujols in the 1999 Draft.

Starling was the perfect fit for the Royals. MLB.com tabbed him as the fifth-best prospect in the Draft, and the Royals had the fifth pick.

Derek "Bubba" Starling is a product of Gardner Edgerton High School.

As a senior quarterback, he ran for 2,377 yards and 31 touchdowns and threw for 790 yards and eight TDs. In three years he accounted for, oh, about 8,100 yards of offense and 97 touchdowns.

So it's obvious why the Nebraska Cornhuskers are very interested.

Goldberg not only scouted Starling in his baseball games. He saw him play football and basketball as well.

"Watching him move on the football field, watching him lead on the football field, watching his competitiveness on the football field. The same thing in basketball. He does things easy, things come natural to him," Goldberg said. "And he's translated it into baseball."

In his senior year for Edgerton's Trailblazers, he batted .481 this spring and averaged a home run in every six at-bats despite a "tweaked quad" that kept him out about two weeks. In his last two high school seasons of baseball, he hit over .500 with 17 home runs. He played for the under-18 Team USA last summer and hit .339. Baseball America called him the No. 1 high school prospect and best high school athlete in the Draft.

Scouts were on his trail and among them were Royals area scout Blake Davis and regional cross-checker Mitch Webster, who spearheaded the Kansas City effort.

The Kansas City Star has been chronicling the saga of Starling for quite some time. The newspaper reported he went to a Royals game not long ago.

"I went to the Royals game and I was in just a polo and some khakis," Starling was quoted as saying. "People recognized me and I signed 13 autographs."

His is one of many stories that will be told this week as baseball continues to make its picks.

Live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft resumes at 11 a.m. CT Tuesday on MLB.com, where fans will receive exclusive coverage of Day 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

Moore wasn't all that confident that the Royals would snag their homegrown product. But the four clubs lined up before them all took pitchers.

"We sweated this out until 10 minutes before we made the selection because he was in a lot of people's mix," Moore said. "He was in the mix at two [Seattle], and he was in the mix at three [Arizona], and so we weren't sure we were going to get to him."

Starling watched the selection with his family and some friends.

"I was smiling, of course, it was kind of cool growing up being a Royals fan and getting to stay home now possibly," he said. "I enjoy the time with my family, definitely my parents for sure. I turned to my mom and gave her a huge hug. There was a little emotion coming out."

The Bubba stories go on. Like how he threw 98-mph fastballs but decided to give up pitching this year.

"I thought he was much better as a position player," Goldberg said. "Obviously, he was a prospect as a pitcher if he wanted to do that. But I thought he made the right decision. He's gifted, a center-diamond player and a chance to hit 25-plus home runs and that was a better road for him."

Goldberg was asked about those 500-foot home runs. He remembered one whopper he saw Starling hit in a doubleheader after the other team got bored with walking him intentionally.

"I haven't walked them off personally, but that one might have," he said.

Will Starling sign with the Royals? The Royals have until Aug. 15 under baseball's rules or, perhaps, until Nebraska football players are due to report on July 10.

J.J. Picollo, the Royals' assistant general manager of scouting and player development, had what he thought was a very good reason.

"This is home for him," Picollo said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["first-year_player_draft" ] }
{"content":["first-year_player_draft" ] }
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