On a recent afternoon, Paulo Orlando collapsed his 6-foot-2 frame into a folding chair in the bowels of Kauffman Stadium and pulled up an array of video clips on the monitor in front of him. In minutes, he would head for a pregame hitting session, but first, he wanted to finish a quick homework assignment.
On the screen was Tigers left-hander Matt Boyd, who was scheduled to start that night. Orlando’s eyes focused as a handful of condensed at-bats played out. He looked for pitches, keyed in on sequences, and tried to familiarize himself with Boyd’s repertoire. Moments later, he had seen enough. Six hours later, he had finished 4 for 5 with a double and two RBIs in a 16-5 victory.
The performance, which came last Saturday, raised Orlando’s season average to .356 and continued another torrid stretch of hitting from the second-year outfielder. It also represented another high point in a breakout first half. A season ago, Orlando made his big-league debut at the age of 29, collecting triples and timely hits as a part-time player. One year later, he is the franchise’s biggest revelation not named Whit Merrifield.
In 47 games, Orlando is batting .354 with a .380 on-base percentage and 12 extra-base hits. He enters Friday with the third highest OPS (.835) in the Royals’ lineup. The production has surprised his manager and aided an offense riddled by injuries. What was once a hot May has turned into an extended surge.
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“I expected Paulo to hit somewhere between .250 and .270,” Royals manager Ned Yost says. “But he’s far exceeded that to this point. He just keeps mixing in hits and finding ways to get hits.”
Orlando has no perfect explanation for his offensive performance, but he credits a greater focus on preparation. A year ago, Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum extolled the virtues of video study before games. Orlando adopted the practice — which he had never done in the minors — and made it a part of his daily routine.
“It can slow down the game and help you a lot,” Orlando says. “Before every game, before I go practice, I watch.
“If a pitcher throws a lot of breaking balls, you go to BP and try to work on that.”
Orlando says the video preparation has improved his pitch recognition skills. He is identifying breaking balls earlier, for instance. He also says regular playing time has helped his timing.
“When you play more games, you have your timing every day,” Orlando says. “Some guys throw hard — 95 to 97 mph — some guys throw 90 to 92. So when you play every day, you have more confidence in yourself.”
The numbers appear to support Orlando’s theory. After seeing limited time in April — Orlando started just nine games — he took control of the starting right field spot with a scorching May. He batted .429 (27 of 63) and slugged over .600. When left fielder Alex Gordon suffered a hand injury in late May, knocking him out for a month, it ensured that Orlando would play every day. The offensive production has continued in June.
“He just continues to get better and better,” Yost says.
There are certain aspects of Orlando’s hitting that appear unsustainable, of course. Nobody inside the Royals organization expected him to bat .350 for all of 2016. And his power output has been limited to just one homer. But Yost also believes that Orlando, a native of Brazil, is a unique case. He is 30 years old and spent 10 seasons in the minor leagues, yet he may still be tapping into his potential.
“He’s a kid that grew up in a non-baseball country,” Yost says.
As a child growing up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Orlando was late to the game of baseball, pursuing it in his teen years. He only began playing when a family friend — a local doctor — suggested that he might be well suited to the sport.
In that sense, Orlando is still a young player, still learning the game at the major-league level. So in the weeks after the Royals won the World Series last fall, Orlando, a career .275 hitter in the minor leagues, reported to winter ball in the Dominican Republic. He wanted the extra at-bats.
“He’s a guy that’s tremendously driven to get better,” Yost said.
For now, Orlando said he’s focused on maintaining his strong first half. Gordon is expected to return on Saturday, which will mean increased competition in the outfield. But if Orlando continues to hit at this pace, it could be difficult for Yost to keep him out of the lineup.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Orlando said. “So now, I feel good. My body feels well. And you’ll see after the second half, you’ll see how I finish.”