Paulo Orlando hails from Sao Paulo, Brazil, not exactly a hot bed for baseball talent. Paulo did not even begin playing baseball until he was twelve years old, dreaming instead of making it big in soccer. He excelled as a track athlete in short-distance running, but also played baseball on the weekends. He got the attention of Cuban scout Orlando Santana, and the White Sox signed him at age 19.
The White Sox still had things to teach Paulo about the game of baseball, and Orlando did not begin playing minor league affiliated ball until 2006, when he was 20 years old. He held his own in low A ball at Kannapolis, hitting .262/.305/.391 with 29 steals in 38 attempts, although he had just 18 walks to 143 strikeouts. That year, he was tabbed by Baseball America as the "fastest baserunner" in Chicago's farm system.
"I'm getting 4.25 down the line," said one scout from a National League club, "but it seems like he’s 4.25 from first to third. When he gets going, he’™s one of the fastest guys I’ve seen this year."
Orlando's numbers took a dive as he moved up to High-A Winston-Salem the next season. The White Sox still gave him a bit of a pass despite his age, due to his lack of experience
Orlando didn’t play a lot of baseball as a teenager, so Sox officials believe he’s more like a college freshman than a typical 22-year-old. His best tool is his speed, a legit 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, which he still is learning to use as a basestealer.
He is as quick as any player in the minors scoring from first base or motoring to third on a triple. Orlando has solid instincts in center and enough arm for the position. He’s built like a sprinter, however, and doesn’t project to hit for much power. The key to advancing beyond Double-A is whether he improves his plate discipline and bat control. He cut his strikeouts significantly in 2007, but he rarely walks and needs to improve his bunting. Orlando made progress last season, though Double-A pitchers will provide a stern test.
The White Sox had Orlando repeat High-A ball until August, when he was dealt to the Royals for left-handed pitcher Horacio Ramirez. Orlando's numbers improved with a career high 12 home runs and 30 walks. In 2009, the Royals had Orlando spend a third-consecutive season at High-A ball and Orlando had his worst year yet, although it came in the extreme pitching environment at Wilmington.
The Royals moved Orlando up to AA Northwest Arkansas in 2010, and he enjoyed his best season ever, hitting .305/.366/.480, and significantly cutting down on his strikeouts.
"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."
For the fifth-straight season, Orlando swiped 20 or more bases that year, and Baseball America named him the "Best Baserunner" in all of AA. Despite those credentials, the Royals left him unprotected for the Rule 5 draft, and no teams took a flyer on his speed.
The Royals moved Orlando up to AAA, and at age 25, he was just a step away from the big leagues. Orlando made up an insanely fast outfield for Omaha, joining Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, and David Lough. Orlando struggled however, and after a .608 OPS in 58 games, he was demoted to AA Northwest Arkansas. Orlando hit well for the Naturals, but repeated AA in 2012, hitting .279/.329/.374 with 6 HR 40 RBI. While his former teammates Cain, Dyson and Lough were in the big leagues now, Orlando's career seemed to be stalling.
Paulo represented his native Brazil in the World Baseball Classic in 2013 before the season began. He was moved up to AAA Omaha that year, but at age 27, he had moved on from "prospect" status. He hit .276/.326/.379 for the Stormchasers with 22 walks and 53 strikeouts in 326 plate appearances. That winter, Orlando was eligible to file for minor league free agency, having been in the minors for six seasons without being put on the 40-man roster. He decided to stay with the Royals organization, but at this point, he appeared to be organizational filler - a guy to take up a roster spot so that real prospects could play games.
Still, Orlando's main weapon - speed - gave the Royals hope he could be useful someday. In 2014, Orlando enjoyed a terrific season, hitting .301/.355/.415 with a career high 34 steals as his Omaha Stormchasers won the AAA Championship. Baseball America called him the "Best Baserunner" in AAA and still saw some upside in his game.
"Orlando’s limited exposure to the game helps explain why he’s still making strides at age 29. He’s an above-average center fielder with a plus arm . . . He has learned to use the whole field and cut down his swing, aiming for contact and line drives."
Orlando was placed on the Royals 40-man roster that winter, a bit of a puzzling move considering he was now 29 year old with no Major League experience. But Orlando had a strong showing in the winter Venezuelan League, and impressed the Royals enough in spring training to make the 2015 Opening Day roster. The rest is history.
We've already seen Orlando's numbers dip a bit since his hot start, but he has shown remarkable speed and there is a chance he could be a valuable reserve outfielder for the Royals this season. Give credit to the Royals for plucking Paulo from the White Sox organization, and for being so patient with him in his development.