Bubba Starling made his long-awaited official professional debut Thursday night, going 0 for 5 with three strikeouts for Burlington (N.C.) in a 14-2 win against Johnson City in a rookie-level Appalachian League game.
Starling missed the first nine games of the season with a hamstring injury.
The former Nebraska quarterback recruit, who signed with Kansas City for $7.5 million as the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft, had spent all season in extended spring training in Surprise, Ariz.
“He’s a much better player today than he was this time last year,” said Kansas City General Manager Dayton Moore, about 30 minutes before Starling’s debut. “Extended spring training was a great experience for him.”
Starling batted third and played center field for Burlington. He flied out to right field his first time up, then batted twice in the Royals’ eight-run third inning, walking and scoring the first time before striking out.
“He’s an incredible athlete, as we all know,” Moore said. “He can really go get the ball in center field. He has great power. He’s a great competitor. He’s going to be a good one. But it’s going to take 800 to 1,000 professional at-bats before you can start seeing that he’s figuring things out and predict what his timetable is going to be.”