Royals' Orlando Working To Go From Brazil To Big Leagues
KANSAS CITY—Brazil has produced World Cup championship teams and legendary soccer players like Pele and Ronaldo. Brazil men's and women's volleyball teams took home gold medals in the 2008 Olympics.
Another Brazilian, Helio Castroneves, has won three Indy 500s, plus the 2007 season of "Dancing With the Stars." Retired world boxing champions Eder Jofre and Acelino Freitas remain national heroes in Brazil.
Brazil, however, has never generated a major league baseball player. Not one. That, however, could change soon. If outfielder Paulo Orlando continues to hit like he has this season with Double-A Northwest Arkansas, he might be in the Kansas City outfield sometime in 2011, if not a September callup this year.
Ask Orlando about the quality of baseball in Brazil and he has a concise two-word answer: "No good," he said.
Orlando played baseball when he was 12, but then gave it up to run track for the next three years. He was one of Brazil's top runners in the 200 and 400 meters.
"Track and field was his sport," Royals assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said.
White Sox scouts Jorge Oquendo and Orlando Santana saw Orlando's blazing speed in a workout and persuaded him to return to baseball. They signed him in January 2005 and sent him to the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League.
"For me it was like hard because I never played baseball every day," Orlando said. "In Brazil we played Friday and Sunday only. We don't have a field close to my house. I had to get a ride to go to the field."
The next four years, 2006-09, Orlando spent in Class A ball, the past three in the high Class A Carolina League. He struck out 143 times in 470 at-bats in 2006 with low Class A Kannapolis. He never hit above .262 and his four-year average was .259.
The Royals acquired him on Aug. 9, 2008 for veteran lefthander Horacio Ramirez.
"I was surprised," Orlando said. "The (Winston-Salem) manager said come into my office and said, 'They've traded you. You're going to Kansas City.' I said, 'Why?' He said in Kansas City you have a better chance to play in the big leagues."
Instead of Kansas City, Orlando switched Carolina League clubs, going to Wilmington. Last year with the Blue Rocks, Orlando hit .261/.303/.351 in 101 games.
The Royals promoted Orlando, now 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, to Northwest Arkansas this season, but he began it on the bench. "When the season started, he was a part-time guy," Naturals manager Brian Poldberg said. "We had some injuries and his play created more playing time because of his success."
Orlando transformed himself from a reserve into a Texas League all-star. Orlando's .326 batting average ranked second in the Texas League to teammate Mike Moustakas. His .386 on-base percentage and .886 OPS ranked fourth in the league. His .500 slugging percentage was fifth. His five triples ranked one behind teammate Derrick Robinson for the league lead. His 14 stolen bases were third, while he was fifth with 45 runs. Orlando, who has never struck out fewer than 80 times in a season, had just 34 strikeouts in 224 at-bats.
"In spring training, anytime the ball left the pitcher's hand he was swinging," Poldberg said. "He really improved his strike-zone discipline. He would chase a lot of pitches out of the zone, but he's not chasing as much. He's driving the ball. He's a raw athletic kid, big and strong. He can fly. He's finally getting a feel for hitting.
"He's fun to watch. He floats around the bases. He's bunting more. He's starting to learn the total game, per se. He's definitely got some talent. If he continues to improve as he did from spring training to now there's no telling how far he can go."
Even the Royals aren't sure what Orlando's ceiling could be.
"That's part of the mystery, part of the intrigue about him," Picollo said. "We're still trying to figure out how good he can be. He's a work in progress. We want to see the consistency. Now go out and have a good second half."
Orlando started the second half well, homering in three of four games.
"The (baseball) foundation was not there when he signed," said Royals minor league director Scott Sharp. "He had a track pedigree. He was an elite runner. I think he has the ability to translate into a major league player."
Robinson and Jarrod Dyson are the two fastest players in the organization. The taller Orlando is a different kind of runner.
"He's not as quick as those guys," Sharp said. "His legs are so long. He can chew up ground."
Said Rene Francisco, who heads up the Royals' international operations, "Orlando is high-waisted with long legs. I don't want to compare him to Willie Wilson, but he has that type of body. It's a pleasure to see him go from first to third or second home. He can really go.
"He really blossomed this year. He could really run. He could really play defense. His bat has come around."
Orlando has played all three outfield positions and even though he played little growing up, he has excellent defensive skills.
"He can really go get the ball," Picollo said. "He has a combination of speed and instincts. He runs so easy and his instincts are good. The ball is not off the bat and he's already running there."