The 2016 season has seen plenty of twists and turns for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
One thing that remains the same after their 2015 Mills Cup Championship campaign is the dominance of their pitching staff, a group that is performing well under new pitching coach Anderson Tavarez.
Through the first month of the season, Myrtle Beach is leading the Carolina League in pitching numbers by a significant margin, posting a 3.01 ERA through 29 games. The Lynchburg Hillcats are the next closest squad with a 3.43 number.
With top prospects in Jonathan Martinez and Jake Stinnett leading the way, it’s Tavarez who deserves much of the praise and attention.
In his 16th year in the Cubs organization, the Dominican-born coach hasn’t always been on the teaching side of the game.
He started with the team in 2002, his first year of American baseball and played up until the end of the 2005 season. It was then that the pitching coach realized that if he wanted to continue being apart of pro baseball, it’d have to be in a much different role.
“My last two years, yes, I thought about it a little bit,” Tavarez said when asked if he had any idea that he’d ultimately fall short of his goal to become a major leaguer.
“You know where you’re at, know ‘I’m not going to make it because I’m not that good’ or ‘I don’t have the tools to get there’. And my last two years, I was thinking about [coaching]. My last year, I helped a lot with my teammates, so it was an easy transition for me.”
Beginning his coaching career in his mid-20s, the jump from player to instructor was a bit of a unique one.
Sure, Tavarez had been around baseball for all of his life and loved it more than any other sport, but there was something unique about being a coach at such a young age.
Most young baseball prospects are in the heart of their careers at 24 years old. For Tavarez, he was just beginning to embark on an exciting journey.
The Cubs allowed him to jump into the coaching game immediately, but it didn’t come without difficult hurdles.
Most notably: the aspect of respect.
“My first year was tough,” he said. “Because when I first started, I started where I played the year before I started coaching, so it was tough. The guys I played with, I coached and that was hard… It’s not easy. I can’t lie to you and say they respected me right away because it’s not like that. But you know, as soon as you respect them, you’re going to get that back.”
Being a young and wide-eyed coach, there were certain advantages of being just out of his playing days, Tavarez says.
He can relate to them — chat with them, and get to know them on a more personal level. He notes that it is sometimes difficult to initially form the relationship, but it pays great dividends when a true bond is formed.
“If you know them, you’re going to teach them better, you’re going to get the best from them,” he said.
“If I know them, I know how they act, what they like and what they don’t like. When I don’t know a guy, I don’t know sometimes how to talk to them and try to get the information through to them, sometimes it’s hard. But if I know them, I know ‘Oh, I have to treat that guy that way, treat the older guy that way’, it’s easier for me that way.”
Now in his 16th season in the Cubs organization, it seems as though Tavarez was born to be in the role he currently possesses. After spending last season in low-A Eugene, he got the promotion to full-season Myrtle Beach in the offseason.
Glowing reports from players and coaches aplenty, it now seems Tavarez is one of the most notable young coaching options in the Chicago organization. He has age on his side and experience to fall back on at just 34 years old.
In the not too distance future, it’s possible the Cubs will reward their young pitching instructor with another much-deserved rise up the organization.
“This is the game that I played, this is the game that I dreamed of all the time,” Tavarez said. “When I played, I was an energy guy. I worked hard and that’s what I’m trying to translate to them, that energy. When they see me as a coach, when they see me doing whatever I do on the field with my energy and my smiling face — I’m always laughing, I laugh a lot — so when I bring that to them, they’ll act the same way.”
This season, the energy in the clubhouse is noticeably increased. Last year’s Pelicans team had fun, but the 2016 version of the Grand Strand Cubs prospects have a different aura around them — one that seems to be reflective of Tavarez’s reliability and enjoyable personality.
When you walk into the clubhouse, he’s the first to greet you with a smile.
When he’s instructing pitchers, he’s quick to compliment, slow to criticize.
It’s his style, and it certainly appears that the results prove that a shift in attitude can make all of the difference.
Said Tavarez: “The best part of a coach is not getting paid. Your payment is when you help somebody and you see the good result, that’s all. That takes you to the next level.”
And if a strong result is the ultimate grand prize, the Myrtle Beach pitching coach is being treated to quite the season.
The Pelicans have allowed both the fewest walks and earned runs in the Carolina League, surrendering just 223 hits over the span of 254 innings pitched — numbers that will not only shine light on the impressive Cubs prospects, but the man who is tutoring them to hopefully be eventual big-leaguers.
The old saying goes that the best teachers teach from the heart.
Because he’s doing just that, Tavarez may one day see his ultimate major league dreams be realized.
All stats as of Tuesday, May 10.