Myers and Starling: Darling Hitters at Different Stages

One of the things you will get from this blog is the baseball gods’ honest truth. Here comes a small dose: I do not have a scouting background. I have a reporting background. So when I read something like Mike Newman’s smart analysis of Bubba Starling’s “lengthy” swing on Fangraphs, I ask around. I can see on video what Newman or a pro scout might explain to be a “hitchy load,” but something like that would be harder to identify on my own. I have not been trained to scout. I have been trained to report.

Which brings me to Royals assistant general manager J.J. Piccolo, whom I interviewed for MiLB.com’s annual, team-by-team Organization All-Stars piece this week. (Look for that piece and others like it here.) I asked Piccolo about the swing mechanics of his organization’s best two prospects: Starling and another righty-hitting outfielder well ahead of him developmentally. That would be Wil Myers, of course.

Myers in the Minors in 2012: .314 AVG, 26 2B, 6 3B, 37 HR, 109 RBI, 140 K in 522 ABs spanning 134 G split between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha

Piccolo review of Myers’ mechanics: “It’s an awkward stance. He’s upright and open, but he has an incredible hand speed and hand-eye coordination and hits the ball as hard as anyone. The ball off his bat has a different sound.”

Starling in the Minors in 2012: .273 AVG, 8 2B, 2 3B, 10 HR, 33 RBI, 70 K in 200 ABs spanning 53 G at Rookie-level Burlington (he also racked up about 150 at-bats in extended spring training before being assigned to the Appalachian League)

Piccolo review of Starling’s mechanics: “The strikeout totals are something we need to work on. I don’t think he’s ever going to be low-strikeout guy, so he needs to recognize the situations when contact is necessary. He made a lot of improvement overall, made a minor adjustment in his stance, with his setup. He tends to move the bat a lot, so his barrel will drop some, which leads to a longer swing. He needs to be in a better hitting position with his swing, so his bat is in a good position to hit the ball. He tends to get sweepy [sic] with his swing — he does that maybe only 10 percent of the time, but that could be 50 percent of his at-bats [in the future].”

Comparisons are unfair. Someone always gets slighted. But I love comparisons. (When a scout starts to sentence with, “I don’t like making comparisons, but this guy could be the next…”, a noticeable amount of moisture gathers at the corners of my mouth.)

This one might be more of a contrast: Starling, the third overall pick in 2010, is not the natural hitter that Myers, a third-rounder in 2009, is and the guess here is that he never will be. But it is very interesting to look at these two players and their burgeoning careers, even if one is three years behind the other.

For instance, Myers began his first full season in 2010, where Starling just finished his: with the Rookie-level B-Royals. How did he fare there? Let’s put his numbers right alongside Starling’s to — yes — compare:

Myers: .289 AVG, 19 2B, 1 3B, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 48 BB, 55 K in 242 ABs spanning 68 G

Starling: .273 AVG, 8 2B, 2 3B, 10 HR, 33 RBI, 28 BB, 70 K in 200 ABs spanning 53 G

Doesn’t look like that big of a difference, until you notice Myers struck out 15 fewer times in 15 more games. That is a big even if the sample size is not.

Now, we know what Myers went on to, becoming the Minor League leader in home runs and one of the best hitting prospects yet to appear in a big league ballgame. We don’t know where Starling will end up, if he can make adjustments to his swing along the way. This should all be kept in mind when discussing — and comparing — two Kansas City kids who are destined to be compared and discussed.

Oh, and one other thing: Myers may be the better hitter, but Starling is the superior outfielder.

Bubba Starling, with Burlington. (Roger Peterson)

Wil Myers, with Triple-A Omaha. (Rinaldi Photos)

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