Just three years separate the end of Eric Farris’s playing career from his first coaching job. Farris’s playing career ended in 2016 with the Indy ball Somerset Patriots, but before that he was a long-term member of the Brewers organization, drafted by Milwaukee in the fourth round of the 2007 draft after a strong college career at Loyola Marymount, where he was a Golden Spikes Award semifinalist. Farris played the 2008 season with the West Virginia Power, back when they were a Brewers affiliate; now, he’s the manager, headed into his second year in West Virginia after serving as the hitting coach last year. (Nor is this his first stint with the Mariners, who drafted Farris in the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 draft back in 2012.)
Farris is hoping that his relatively recent playing career can help shape the young players coming to Low-A West Virginia for their first taste of full-season ball. “I think a lot of this job is to teach guys how to be pros at this early level so that, when they get to the higher levels and they are with older players, they understand how the game not only should be played, but also how to respond and be a pro during the course of a six-month long season when there are only a handful of days off when you get time for yourself,” Farris said Tuesday on a conference call with local media. While short-season ball can help players adjust from a college baseball schedule, nothing can prepare players for the day-in, day-out grind of full-season ball. Having a coach who recently has been through the grind of the minor leagues—including the extra grind-y grind of independent ball—can help make this transition easier and ultimately produce more well-adjusted players.
“It’s just impressing on these guys that we are trying to get them better as a baseball player, but also preparing them to be an overall better pro and an ambassador for the game as a whole, because we are all under the same umbrella. We have to prepare these guys to be ready for when they are at a higher level and the stakes are a little higher.”
Farris also points to his familiarity with the city of Charleston and the South Atlantic League, built from his playing career and also his time as hitting coach in 2019, as something that will help him help players adjust, noting that many of the same host families from his time as a player are still involved with hosting players today.
“It’s not just the familiarity with the town and the people either, or even the stadium and how the front office staff at the park likes to work with the team, but also the fact that I’m familiar with the league and the scheduling, the travel and everything from what hotels we typically will stay in, how long the bus rides are going to be, which affects scheduling and the way our players feel. All of these things come into play when you’re managing a team, and being familiar with a lot of those aspects of the season is definitely an advantage and gives me a little bit more comfort stepping in for 2020.”
In addition to US-born players getting their first taste of full-season ball, many of the Mariners’ international players will also come through West Virginia with varying degrees of experience playing in the US. For many of those who skip Everett, the South Atlantic League will be their first exposure to a non-tropical, non-desert environment, and while it’s no Clinton, Iowa, the climate and cultural unfamiliarity can pose an extra challenge for players who find nights in Peoria unfathomably cold. However, Farris will have a staff of coaches themselves uniquely suited to helping players make this adjustment.
Farris will be joined on his coaching staff by pitching coach Nathan Bannister, himself a displaced desert-dweller barely a year from his playing career after a storied career at Arizona, and Rob Benjamin, who was recently the hitting coach for the DSL Mariners and beloved by his charges there. The bilingual Puerto Rican/New Yorker owns the Riot Hitting Academy in Ramsey, NJ, which is just an hour and a half from Lakewood, NJ, one of the stops in the South Atlantic League. For his part, Farris is enthusiastic about his staff and the communication he’s had with them so far: “I’m really excited about the staff. We’ve been in contact this offseason, and we are all getting together soon to really get this thing rolling. . . “We have a really good core philosophy in our organization and all of the coaches we put out there are really on the same page in terms of communication and everything else, so I’m really excited about the group as a whole.”
It’s not just his fellow coaches Farris in enthused about. He doesn’t even know who will be on his roster yet, but points to how much young talent the Mariners have now, and how far those players have come in a relatively short time. “We have been able to infuse our farm system with so many good players, and there are guys that I was fortunate to work with in Arizona just a few years ago that are already off and doing better things and still having success. You can see the growth and development in the system with our players, and we have really done a good job of passing a player on to the next level seamlessly. The success has shown and the guys have been able to be consistent in getting better, and that’s really all we could ask for.”
“It’s been very gratifying to be able to see some of these guys keep working and still have success at all levels. It’s been a great run with the Mariners thus far, we do a great job, and all of that hard work is paying off, that’s been evident since I’ve been here for sure.”