KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Royals are bringing Bubba Starling to the majors, culminating a journey for the hometown hero and former first-round draft pick that took eight years in the minors.
Starling will join Kansas City for the opener of their series against Detroit on Friday night.
The 26-year-old outfielder, who starred at nearby Gardner-Edgerton High School, has struggled for years to live up to enormous expectations. But he is hitting .310 with seven homers and 38 RBIs in his first full season at Triple-A Omaha, and recently played in that level's all-star game.
Starling was chosen fifth overall in the 2011 amateur draft, signing for a $7.5 million bonus — then the second-largest in draft history and the most guaranteed money to a prep player.
Royals general manager Dayton Moore told MLB.com that Starling will not ride the bench when his years-in-the-making arrival happens. But how much he plays ultimately will be up to manager Ned Yost, who has had plenty of opportunities to observe Starling the past few springs.
"Yeah, the last six years have been tough, especially with injuries, staying healthy," Starling told The Associated Press during a wide-ranging interview in spring training. "I put a lot of pressure on myself to do this, that, instead of just having fun."
Starling hit just .236 over more than 2,500 minor league plate appearances coming into this season, and the former prep standout — who spurned a scholarship offer to play quarterback at Nebraska to sign with the Royals — started to look as if his opportunity in the big leagues might never arrive.
But the oblique injury that scuttled a breakthrough start to 2017, and a dislocated finger that ruined last season, are finally behind him. Starling arrived this spring healthy and happy, and he was so productive in those exhibition games that some thought he might crack the opening day lineup.
"We're really optimistic that he's turning the corner," said JJ Picollo, who heads the Royals' minor league operation, and who has been keeping close tabs on Starling over the years.
The Royals will make a corresponding roster move before Friday's game against the Tigers, and the assumption is that seldom-used outfielder Terrence Gore's roster spot will be taken.
"This is a celebration for what he has earned," Moore told MLB.com. "He has had three solid months of production and good health. We look forward to his arrival."