As a professional baseball player grinding it out in the far-from-glamorous independent leagues, Abel Arocho said he has had “about 1,000 reasons” to quit. But he’s also got a reason to keep going.
Arocho, a former Shenandoah University outfielder who is about to begin his third season of pro ball, considers it a blessing that he’s had the opportunity to extend his baseball career, regardless of whether it’s come on the lowest rungs of the professional ranks. The constant search for progress that comes with that opportunity is what pushes him forward.
“Mentally, it was pretty tough,” Arocho said on Tuesday of his first two seasons in independent baseball, which he spent mostly in the Pecos League before a short stint in the American Association to end the 2019 season. “One of the things that kept me alive was just my love for the game, and always my competitiveness. I always keep my mind open, so I always like to learn from different guys. They told me their stories that kind of inspired me, of the door’s always still open or you still have the chance to come up there and be at a different level, or even one day make it to the Show, as long as you keep finding your routine and just keep grinding. Just knowing that you still have a chance to play ball while you’ve still got it, while I’m young and I’m still optimistic. Obviously, I always keep my feet to the ground, though. As long as I have the door open in front of me and stuff, I’m always motivated to keep going.”
It’s a tough time to be a small-time pro baseball player still hunting that chance to catch the eye of an MLB organization. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the country to a standstill, and sports organizations at all levels haven’t been immune. Major League Baseball, which was supposed to hold Opening Day last week, suspended spring training camps on March 13 and has not yet set an official start date for the 2020 season.
Arocho, who said he has a spring training invite with the Gary SouthShore RailCats, an American Association team with which he closed out the 2019 season, was supposed to attend a workout hosted by the Chicago Cubs and the Cincinnati Reds in Ohio later this month, and he had other similar opportunities to perform in front of MLB scouts, he said, all of which have since been postponed or canceled.
Arocho added that spring training in the American Association is scheduled to begin later this month, a start date that appears highly unlikely at this point. He said players have been told to stay put and are receiving updates from the league as soon as American Association officials are able to provide them.
Arocho, a Glen Burnie, Maryland, native, said he’s “pretty much on lockdown” in his home state, which recently implemented a stay-at-home order to combat the spread of the new coronavirus. That means Arocho has had limited options when it comes to staying in shape and being ready for when the 2020 season does indeed get rolling.
“I’m trying to go outside and work out as much as I can,” Arocho said. “I’m still throwing. Even if I don’t have a partner, I’ll throw against a fence, I don’t care. There’s a lot of tee work, kind of just keep my mechanics because it’s hard to find timing right now. You can’t just have any game-like mindset toward when you’re hitting and stuff, so it’s just keeping my mechanics clean, throw as much as I can and work out as much as you’re allowed to, pretty much.”
Arocho said he’s still doing all he can to grab the attention of MLB scouts, and he’s been aided in that endeavor by his younger brother Jeremy, who is a middle infielder in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system.
“He’s inside the system, so talking to him and he’s telling me how everything runs and he gives me ideas,” Arocho said. “I work out with him as well. It keeps me motivated. He sees the things that he sees with me and I’ll talk to a couple advisers here and there, and scouts. All you can do is just send videos out, try to keep everybody in contact close to you, send all the numbers out, all the seasonal stuff that you had. It’s pretty much taking a lot of video, sending it out and just trying to go to workouts as soon as all this stuff comes back.”
Arocho, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound left-handed outfielder, has posted a .331/.480/.477 slash line in 121 games spanning two professional seasons spent primarily in Colorado with the Trinidad Triggers in the Pecos League. In 116 games with the Triggers in 2018 and 2019, Arocho batted .338 with 14 home runs, 31 RBIs, 118 runs scored and 24 stolen bases.
“Going through my first season, I had to make a lot of adjustments,” Arocho said. “It was different, a lot different from college, playing with guys that pitched at a really high level, guys that either could be in like their mid-30s or guys that came from really good DI schools. I had to learn how to adjust. It was tough at first but I always kept my mind open of just little things that I could do, because I wasn’t the biggest guy. I just concentrated when I went up to the plate. It was kind of like a job, you know. I just went up there knowing what I was gonna do and I ended up struggling at first, my first year, and then made a few adjustments on my swing, kind of shortened my swing, and yeah, had a great first year, had a really good second year and that’s when I got promoted to the American Association league with the Gary SouthShore RailCats up in Indiana.”
In the American Association, which Arocho described as the “big leagues” of independent baseball, he played in five games with the RailCats at the end of 2019, tallying two hits in 15 at-bats. Arocho said some of the players in the American Association are former minor leaguers and, occasionally, former big leaguers.
“First of all you just (need to be) mentally tough because you’re not in your comfort zone like you were in the Pecos League, so going to a different league, mentally it’s hard but you get motivated by seeing all that,” Arocho said. “I wasn’t worried about doing good or not, I was just worried about how I could make myself better as a baseball player. I always kept my mind open. I’ve never been that negative guy because if you’re negative in baseball, you’ll never make it.”
Arocho said he’s used his short professional career to learn from people from all walks of life that he’s met along the way.
“In independent ball, you see guys that are just coming in and out from affiliated (teams), from Triple-A, Double-A and all that stuff and then they end up on indy ball teams like mine. You get to pick people’s brains like that and just talk to them, learn how to be a professional and how they go about things every day, routines, just things to make me a better teammate and obviously a better baseball player,” said Arocho, who noted that he’s in turn told others about his Shenandoah University experience and how it’s helped him having played for a successful NCAA Division III program.
“I always keep that mindset, keeping my mind open, learning from other players, learning from people that came from different areas,” he added, “but at the same time keeping that same mentality that I’ve had since Shenandoah, which is winning and competitiveness and just being a good teammate like (longtime SU coach Kevin) Anderson kind of showed us.”