The Royals still have more than two weeks to discuss which players might join the club in September when rosters are allowed to expand beyond 25 men. But a familiar face is tracking for a return to the big leagues.
Paulo Orlando, who began the season as the team’s starting right fielder, is continuing a rehab assignment at Class AAA Omaha after hitting .341 in 12 games at Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
He transferred to Omaha on Saturday and collected one hit in his first two games. He can simply be optioned back to Omaha and continue playing for the Storm Chasers when his rehab stint comes to an end. But he projects as a possible reserve outfielder/defensive replacement/pinch runner during the month of September.
“We’re definitely keeping our eye on Paulo, waiting for him to get back to where he can come up here and help us,” Royals manager Ned Yost said Tuesday. “Which will probably be September.”
It is perhaps not the role Orlando and the Royals envisioned after he batted .302 with a .329 on-base percentage and five homers in 128 games during a breakout 2016 season. But Orlando’s 2017 season has been plagued by a slow start that resulted in a demotion to Omaha in April and a foul ball off the leg on May 12 that resulted in more than two months on the disabled list.
Orlando, 31, was diagnosed with a fractured shin and did not return until starting a rehab assignment at Class AA Northwest Arkansas on July 21. But he experienced a setback during his first week there and took another week off.
The emergence of rookie Jorge Bonifacio and the addition of Melky Cabrera has lessened the need for corner outfield help. But in looking for possible September call-ups, Orlando projects as a likely option. He offers versatility in the outfield — including the ability to play center field — and he could offer a defensive upgrade over Bonifacio or Cabrera in the late innings.
“Defensive options are important, too, to be able to have a guy that we can (use as a defensive sub), a guy that is very athletic and go gap to gap,” Yost said. “We’ve seen how good a defender he is. We’re definitely keeping our eye on him.”
Infielder Raul Mondesi could also be ticketed for a return to the big leagues once the Omaha season is over. He is batting .302 with a .341 on-base percentage and 13 homers and 16 doubles in 72 games. He missed more than three weeks in July because of a back issue, but he returned to the lineup in early August. In September, his greatest value might be his ability to offer more speed off the bench.
Speaking of speed, outfielder Terrance Gore would be an option to return as well. Infielder Ramon Torres could offer versatility in the infield. Reliever Kevin McCarthy would offer depth to the bullpen — if he’s not already back on the 25-man roster when September begins.
Other players on the 40-man roster include Bubba Starling and Hunter Dozier, two intriguing prospects who have both battled injuries this season.
Dozier has missed much of the season because of a strained oblique muscle and a broken wrist sustained in late June. Starling, meanwhile, was experiencing one of his best stretches in the minor leagues before being sidelined because of an oblique strain on July 9. He returned from the disabled list last week.