Cool nicknames can be hard to come by. Cool nicknames that stick as you get older -- even tougher.For Brayan Rocchio, being known as "The Professor" happened before he signed with the Indians in 2017, but it's showing no signs of going away thanks to the expertise he's displayed early
Cool nicknames can be hard to come by. Cool nicknames that stick as you get older -- even tougher.
For Brayan Rocchio, being known as "The Professor" happened before he signed with the Indians in 2017, but it's showing no signs of going away thanks to the expertise he's displayed early on in the professional ranks.
"I was playing in the Dominican Republic when I was 16, and I was at shortstop when there was this ground ball hit in the hole," the 18-year-old said through a translator. "I made a diving play and was able to throw the guy out at first. When I got back to the dugout, my coach at the time told me I made the play like a professor. Then the name just stayed. People started calling me 'El Profesor' after that."
His current coaches have taken note as well.
"The simple fact is he has really really good instincts," said Kai Correa, the Indians' Short-Season defensive coordinator. "He has an advanced knowledge of the game and paired with his natural skill set, he's able to do things you don't really see often. He has great range, he can move back with ease, how he applies the tag, a relay or redirect throw, he can backdoor trail runners. It's not just the traditional tool set with him -- his intangibles are off the charts as well. The way he moves before the pitch, where he moves, he always puts himself in the best position to make plays that you didn't think were possible."
And it's not just in the field where his natural ability shines.
"He has advanced hand-to-eye coordination and it's a gift for him at the plate," Scrappers manager Dennis Malave said. "He has the ability to make contact, he doesn't strike out much and he studies the pitchers he's facing, too. He gets an idea of tendencies and what they might do, and he's ready whenever he steps into the box. He has a lot of natural talent, but he's also always very prepared."
"I like to be consistent with my practice -- that helps with my confidence and being successful," Rocchio said. "If I know the player [at the plate] I just position myself accordingly. But sometimes I just get a feeling, like the ball is going to go to the right or the ball is going to be hit to the left and I start going that way.
"At the plate, I just try to be very relaxed. I don't want to do too much -- just see the ball where it is and hit it that way."
Over his first two professional seasons, the 10th-ranked Indians prospect has made a habit of loud introductions. After mashing his way through the Dominican Summer League to open last season -- posting a .323/.391/.434 slash line with a .825 OPS and 19 runs scored over 25 games -- Rocchio was assigned to the Rookie-level Arizona League on July 8. In 35 games, the Venezuela native continued to rake, finishing third in the batting race with a .343 average as the third-youngest qualifier at 17 years old.
"This is a young player who came over in that July 2 international class and wasn't one of the highly touted players, but just came in here Day 1 and went to work," Indians director of player development James Harris said. "He just loves the game -- you can see it when he plays, offensively and defensively he's always going at full speed. He's a rat of the game. He studies it, lives it and carries himself like he's older than he actually is. He's fun to watch."
Rocchio looked the part of a seasoned veteran when he got inserted into a game at big league camp this spring. With the wax on the candles of his 18th birthday cake barely dry, the 5-foot-10, 150-pound shortstop played nine innings for Cleveland in an 8-3 victory over the Cubs on March 22. In four at-bats, Rocchio had his 60-grade speed on display as he tripled, singled and scored. In the field, he made a pair of highlight-reel plays that showcased his range and throwing accuracy.
"There is no situation that's too big for him," Correa said. "There are guys out there with louder tools, but man, the thing about [Rocchio], he's always in the right spot. He just manages to sneak in these diving, sliding, ranging plays and he gets an out when you didn't think it's possible. And it's really unique when you combine that with the foot speed, the exchange time, the accuracy of the arm. He doesn't have the biggest arm, but you never question him playing [short] because of all that and his ability to create angles and move before the pitch."
After participating in extended spring training, Rocchio opened the season with Class A Short Season Mahoning Valley. Through his first 45 New York-Penn League games, the switch-hitter sports a .227/.293/.326 line with 12 extra-base hits, 15 runs scored and 10 RBIs. He has 13 multi-hit efforts with a three-hit game among those. In 178 total chances at short, he has a .927 fielding percentage.
The native of Caracas said his favorite player growing up was fellow countryman Asdrúbal Cabrera, and that he tried to tailor his own game around the two-time MLB All-Star.
"He was always my favorite," Rocchio said. "Everything he does is so smooth. His fielding is slick and he's very relaxed whenever he's at the plate. That's how I try to be."
"I think a lot of his game comes from watching so many great players -- great defenders -- from Venezuela," Malave said. "They take a lot of pride in having a complete, all-around game, and I think he wants to be one of those guys. ... He's constantly learning more and more about the game."
And that's why the organization believes, when it comes to the Professor, the future is bright.
"When you put yourself in the situation he has -- with all the mental and physical reps -- you start to see things and patterns throughout the game and he is taking advantage of those right now," Harris said. "In a way, he's an old soul, but the reality is there is still a lot to learn and we're looking forward to his continued development. Physically, he is a young guy who can add some strength and durability. He makes good contact right now, but we're working on even more contact and more impact on the ball when he does."
"There is obviously still room for growth," Correa said. "You know, when you're that young and that incredibly gifted and advanced, failure is not an option. But the reality is, there are waves throughout a baseball season, and we're working on showing him how to deal with that. How to ride those waves and not get too high or too low. There's a maturation process that we've started to see, but it isn't fully there yet.
"His best days are still to come."
Rob Terranova is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RobTnova24.