It's no secret that the Mustangs are one of the Pioneer League's best at developing young talent and preparing it to move along through (in their case) the Cincinnati Reds organization. Several players on the current Reds roster spent time in Billings.
From 2010 National League MVP first baseman Joey Votto to outfielder Jay Bruce to third baseman Todd Frazier to relief pitcher Logan Ondrusek, the Mustangs have had a hand in producing a slew of future Reds. And it's gone a long way toward Cincy winning two NL Central division titles in the last three seasons. There are a few guys waiting in the wings, too -- notably base-stealing phenom Billy Hamilton. This year's player to watch in Billings is outfielder Phillip Ervin, the Reds' first-round pick (No. 27 overall) from the 2013 draft.
Last week third-year Mustangs Manager Pat Kelly talked about the importance of player development, and I think it's worth divulging here. In minor league baseball, especially at a Rookie-level circuit like the Pioneer League, winning in many ways is of secondary importance to the daily grind of improving your young talent.
Teams want to win, and that's the goal each night, but player development is a monotonous and extremely important process, one that Kelly takes quite seriously. Some guys will make it and some guys won't. But each guy is looked at as a potential major leaguer. The following are a couple quotes on this subject from the Mustangs' skipper:
♦ “I take it very seriously. For most of these guys it’s their entryway into pro ball, and it’s their first experience. I feel like you have a chance to mold them and teach them how to be a professional. There’s a lot of things that we do here that aren’t necessarily about the baseball field. It’s about guys living away from home for the first time, responsibilities, acting like a professional … there’s a lot of teaching involved. I look back at when I managed at the higher levels. You wanted your players prepared when they came to your club. And I feel like that’s my obligation, to prepare these guys to move on in the organization.”
♦ “I think the Reds, if you look at the players that have come through here, this has been a starting point. The Reds have a huge history going way back in player development. They were probably one of the first organizations starting in the '60s and '70s to really emphasize player development and really recognize, even before free agency, that you need to develop your own players. I think that’s where the relationship with Billings has grown, having been here since the '70s."
♦ “Minor league baseball has become a business. The major league organization is interested in developing, but a business sometimes feels like they have to have a winner on the field. I think that’s one of the special things about Billings. They understand that it’s about player development, and they probably understand it much better than some of the other places in baseball now.”
♦ “The organization is very supportive. They want us to put a good product on the field too. They’re very concerned with making sure we have a competitive team here, that not only is it good for development but it’s good for the fans to watch. And working with (Mustangs general manager) Gary Roller is outstanding. I always say that this is a great gig that nobody knows about. They take care of us better than most minor league franchises take care of anybody. Everybody wants to come here and work here and play here.”