04/27/12 1:55 PM ET
Starling making most of extended spring reps
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
If the Royals prospect could go back in time, he would still play three sports in high school. And no, he doesn't regret turning down a football scholarship to the University of Nebraska, or all the time he spent shooting hoops when he could have been hitting in the cage.
Starling, you see, is focused on the present. He dreams about a future in the big leagues and he's too busy to think of his high school glory days in the not-so-distant past.
The truth is, Starling, ranked No. 1 on MLB.com's list of Top 20 Royals prospects and No. 17 overall, doesn't have time for the "what ifs" of the world. He needs to be on the field for workouts at extended spring camp by seven nearly every morning, and he has plenty of work to do today, tomorrow and the day after that.
"I enjoyed playing all three sports in high school, especially football," Starling, 18, said. "Yes, I'm behind, and you can tell a little bit in the field, and especially at the plate. But that will come with more repetition. From last week to this week, I already feel like I am seeing the ball better. Being out here and getting these reps in is helping."
Starling, Kansas City's top pick in the first round and the fifth overall selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, is a right-handed power hitter projected to be a center fielder. He has all the tools scouts love. He just lacks the experience they want.
The Gardner, Kan., native didn't get much baseball work last summer because he did not sign until right before the Aug. 15 deadline. He then missed time in instructional league because of a quad injury.
"This is the first full year he will dedicate to baseball, and it's important that he works hard, even with all of the talent he has," said J.J. Picollo, the Royals' assistant general manager of scouting and player development.
"His progress dictates how quickly we'll move him. I think he can go to the Midwest League and hold his own just fine. I don't know what type of success he would have right away but right now, it's more about preparation, so when he gets to a league, he can handle it."
It didn't take Starling long to realize there was big difference between being a high school star and being a professional athlete. Not only did he have to worry about facing advanced pitching, he also had to make the adjustment to living on his own.
"I came here for [instructional league] and it was overwhelming," Starling said. "The pace of everything and how much stuff we had to do was a lot to take in. I look back on it right now, and it's really not that bad, but you have to get into a routine and keep doing it.
"Even in Spring Training, there were 170 guys going back and forth, all these guys at each position and facing Double-A pitching in intrasquad games. But looking back, all the experiences have helped me."
It doesn't hurt that nearly all of the prospects at extended spring camp are Starling's age. It definitely helps having fellow 2011 high school Draft picks catcher Cameron Gallagher, right-handed pitchers Bryan Brickhouse and Kyle Smith and shortstop Patrick Leonard in camp.
"We are all trying to get better," Starling said. "I'm working on reading balls off the bat and just getting better overall, and they are working on their game. I'm learning from them and I think they learn a little from me, too."
There are approximately 75 prospects working out in the Kansas City's extended spring camp this year. The prospects are divided into two teams, and the squads play one game most days. The prospects participate in "camp days," designed to concentrate on drills and work in the weight room on days when games are not scheduled. They are given Sunday off.
"Ideally, these players will leave here in mid-June with the same number of at-bats they would have had if they broke camp with a team on April 6," Picollo said. "They are playing night games, and that helps atmosphere and the competitiveness of the program. We welcome that. It's a little different this year, because we signed more high school players than we had in years prior, but it's a very good program."
When all is said and done, one high school player could end up being a hometown hero. But Starling is not thinking that far ahead.
"I'm having fun and really appreciate getting to play baseball as my job," Starling said. "I know I have work to do, but I look at some of my friends who are in college and writing those long papers. This work beats that work any day of the week."