Paulino Blowing Up For Indians In Pro Debut

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Dorssys Paulino was one of the big names on the international market last year.

A Dominican shortstop from Bani who trained with Alberto Mercedes (known as "Pelkin") and worked out at La Academia, Paulino drew strong reviews for his advanced approach and ability to hit in games.

Yet even the Indians, who signed the righthanded-hitting Paulino for $1.1 million last year on July 2, could not have expected Paulino to play this well.

Paulino, 17, has hit .355/.412/.607 with 11 walks, 19 strikeouts, three home runs, five triples and eight doubles in 119 plate appearances in the Rookie-level Arizona League. At 6 feet, 175 pounds, Paulino ranks eighth in the league with a 1.019 OPS.

"We obviously liked the bat and we liked his hittability coming into it," said John Mirabelli, who oversees the organization's international efforts as Cleveland's vice president of scouting, "but to expect a 1.000 OPS from a 17-year-old who's never played organized baseball would have been too much. But the more you see him, the more you see he has the ability to slow the game down at the plate. He sees the ball and he has great vision.

"You can talk about his quick hands, his bat speed, his ability to control the strike zone as a 17-year-old, but the bottom line is the kid has exceptional bat-to-ball, hand-eye coordination. Then you start to factor in strength, bat speed, other things and you have the ingredients for a pretty good-looking offensive player."

Dominican teenagers who come to the U.S. for their pro debut aren't supposed to make it look this easy. Robinson Cano hit .230/.330/.365 in 57 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League when he was 18. When Placido Polanco was 18, he hit .213/.259/.268 in 32 games in the AZL, while a 19-year-old Rafael Furcal (.258/.335/.342 in 50 GCL games) didn't fare much better.

Hanley Ramirez exploded on to the scene for the Red Sox 10 years ago as an 18-year-old in the GCL, where he hit .341/.402/.555 in 45 games, while Starlin Castro hit .311/.364/.464 in 51 AZL games at 18. Yet in addition to being a year older than Paulino at the time, both Ramirez and Castro had spent a season in the Dominican Summer League before making the jump to a U.S. complex league. The Indians have thrown Paulino into the fire, and he's responded by making the Arizona League look like Little League.

"He just has such a good approach and a short swing to the ball," AZL Indians manager Anthony Medrano said. "He always stays with his approach. He's an absolute great hitter."

Paulino has baseball bloodlines, as his father Jesus Sanchez was a lefthander who pitched in the big leagues from 1998-2004. While many of Paulino's peers are still learning how to manage their at-bats in the DSL, Paulino's plate discipline is remarkably advanced.

"It's unbelievable for his age," Medrano said. "I don't think I've seen a 17-year-old with his approach who's able to lay off some of the pitches that he does."

Trying to get a handle on a 16-year-old Latin American amateur hitter's plate discipline is one of the hardest things for a scout to evaluate. A player may show what looks like a keen eye at the plate, but if he's facing pitchers throwing 84 mph or guys who have limited offspeed stuff in their arsenal, it's not always indicative of a skill that will translate when the velocity gets higher and the breaking balls start to snap instead of roll.

"I think from his evaluation, when we had him in our complex, it wasn't so much about the strike-zone discipline and controlling the strike zone as much as it was, when he got a pitch in the strike zone, he tended to put a pretty good swing on it," Mirabelli said. "We didn't see him chase a lot, but then again, in the environment you're scouting these guys in in Latin America, they want to show you what they can do. They're not out to show you strike-zone discipline or to try to get on base for the team. They want to show you their swing and show you what they can do.

"We felt good, when he did get a ball in the strike zone, that there wasn't much swing and miss . . . but I don't think anyone's judging strike-zone discipline or patience in Latin American tryout situations. That being said, the more we've seen him in instructional league and spring training, his ability to recognize spin stands out. At that age and experience level, it's pretty rare."

When pitchers have come in the zone to attack Paulino, he's been able to make them pay. He has good bat speed and an easy stroke that should help him hit for average and, with his patience, get on base at a high clip.

"The good thing about him is he's able to cover the whole plate," Medrano said. "He'll pull the ball, but they throw him away and he's not afraid to go the other way. He uses the whole field and he goes with power to all fields. He's going to be a real impressive hitter down the road.

"He has a very simple swing that stays in the zone for a long time. You've got a lot of hitters who get out of the zone, but his bat stays in the zone a long time and I think that's why he's able to hit so well."

International scouts regarded Paulino as a hit-first, power-second type last year. The Indians knew he was going to be more of a hitter than a slugger, but they saw his bat speed, saw him get the barrel out front against fastballs and figured he had a chance to be a threat for extra-base hits. The ball tends to carry in Arizona, but Paulino has shown a bit more pop than some scouts expected, and he doesn't need to sell out for power or try to yank balls out of the park to drive the ball.

"With a good, short, compact swing and not trying to do too much," Medrano said of how Paulino generates his power. "He doesn't overswing and he's hardly ever overaggressive. It's just a short swing to the ball, he makes contact and he's such a strong kid that when he hits it good, the ball is going to carry."

Where Paulino ends up defensively remains to be seen. Most international scouts who saw Paulino last year expected him to slide over to third base or second base, based on his body type, lack of range and the fact that defense doesn't come as naturally for him as hitting, though he runs and throws pretty well. Medrano said Paulino has made strides defensively and has shown he can make the routine play, but he's also made 12 errors in 18 games at shortstop, so there's still plenty of work to be done.

"He's got the raw attributes to be a shortstop," Mirabelli said. "We're committed to that. What he needs, like a lot of young Latin players who don't have game situations, is to understand the speed of the game. He needs to develop his own internal clock defensively.

"He makes a lot of careless, youthful, inexperienced mistakes. He needs to read hops a little bit better, and you can't get that from a buscon hitting you 100 fungoes a day. These are all game situations, speed of the game, under the lights, playing live, that he doesn't have. He has the tools and we're committed to him at shortstop."