The way Paulo Orlando sees it, there is little point in worrying about hitting .300.
As the Royals opened the final weekend of the season, Orlando was batting .307, an average bolstered by a four-hit game on Thursday night against the Twins. Barring something strange — like a hitless performance this weekend against the Cleveland Indians — Orlando will probably finish with a .300 average in just his second big-league season. But as Orlando prepared to start in center field on Friday night, he wasn’t concerned about any of that.
“I don’t want to think too much,” he said Friday afternoon. “I know I’m hitting over .300 right now with three games (to play).”
In fact, Orlando likes to think about his breakout 2016 in terms bigger than batting average. He’s a better defender now, he said. He’s a better overall player, too.
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“Everybody says you’re hitting .300, and that’s all you got,” Orlando said. “But I have a lot of stuff to (improve on): I (can) play better defense, hit for more power. I think I’ve had a great year, but next year should be better than that.”
For Orlando, 2016 has no doubt been a breakthrough. After debuting in the big leagues last season at the age of 29, he returned to Kansas City this year and is hitting .307 with 23 doubles, five homers and a .745 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. According to advanced metrics, he has been worth 2.5 Wins Above Replacement, in part because of his solid defensive range in center and right field. And yet, there remains a question about his role in 2017.
Assuming that Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon are healthy next season, the Royals will once again have two-thirds of their outfield in place. That leaves a vacancy in right field — or perhaps center, if the club opts to let Cain rest his legs in right — and a couple of different options for a club looking for more offense.
Jarrod Dyson is entering his final season of arbitration and retains great value as a reserve outfielder, offering solid defense and speed. Orlando was a minirevelation after hitting just .249 last season. And rookie Hunter Dozier could project as another possible candidate — if he can improve his defensive capabilities in the outfield.
Yet the Royals will likely seek to upgrade their offense in the offseason, and right field offers a possible landing spot for a free-agent acquisition.
For all of Orlando’s production, his season comes with a few caveats. Entering Friday, his “batting average on balls in play” was .384, a number that is likely unsustainable and suggests a degree of luck. Orlando has also walked just 13 times in 473 plate appearances while racking up 100 strikeouts and slugging just .410.
The Royals believe Orlando has the potential and skill set to hit for more power. But as a corner outfielder, much of his offensive value, at the moment, is dependent on hitting for a high average.
For years, Royals manager Ned Yost says he thought of Orlando as a “fourth or fifth outfielder”. Has Orlando done enough to change that view?
“He’s got more power than he exhibits,” Yost said. “You just watch him in batting practice. But his focus is really ‘put the ball in play — go up the middle.’ ”
Yost said Orlando has been working with Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum on ways to hit for more power, including picking out spots early in the count. But on the whole, Orlando has still been an improved hitter this season.
As the season comes to a close, the chase for .300 could offer a parting reward. It could also leave Orlando as a useful option entering spring training next February.
“Everybody still has room to grow in that room,” Yost said, referencing the Royals’ clubhouse. “Everybody is going to be able to continue to get better. Is Paulo starting to come into his own? Yeah, I think so.”