BILLINGS – Ray Martinez won’t be back after all.
The Billings Mustangs announced Thursday, hours before the first pitch of a fresh Pioneer League Baseball season, that Bryan LaHair will replace Martinez as Mustangs manager. The team didn’t announce a reason for departure of Martinez but LaHair told MTN Sports that he’s been managing this group of players for the last two months at the Reds’ training complex in Arizona, and that he’s known about the move for a couple weeks.
He’s been learning the ropes for a little longer.
“I’ve been working as a manger now for the last two and a half months down there in extended,” LaHair said. “I’ve learned a lot of Jose Nieves and Gookie Dawkins, just the whole staff all the way up and down. (I’m) taking it all in and I’m excited for it. It’s going to be a great year.”
The Reds and Mustangs announced on January 9 that Martinez would return to Billings for his fourth straight season.
This will mark LaHair’s first year as a professional manager and his second in coaching after a 15-year playing career. He served as the Mustangs’ hitting coach last summer on the way to a postseason appearance. His offense churned out 126 doubles and 49 home runs.
Joining LaHair is hitting coach Darryl Brinkley, pitching coach Derrin Ebert, bench coach Hernan Iribarren, athletic trainer Brandon Blascak and strength coach Blaine Taylor.
The roster features 29 players, including nine that have previously played in Billings and three draft picks from the 2019 class.
After surging late in the year to a berth in the Pioneer League North Divisional Series, the Mustangs return several key components from the 2018 team while adding exciting new members of the Cincinnati Reds’ latest draft class. In all, the roster includes five top-10 round picks. That list includes 2012 1st-rounder Nick Travieso who will make his first appearance in a Billings uniform this week.
The outfield will be roamed by two newly-minted draftees as 8th-rounder Quin Cotton and 9th-rounder TJ Hopkins join the team while Quincy McAfee out of Pepperdine adds a fresh face to the infield. Cotton, a former Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year, brings a career .349 batting average to the table after pacing the Grand Canyon University offense. The fleet-footed Hopkins stole 47 bases over the last four seasons at South Carolina, including 32 in his final two years. McAfee had a team-best .433 slugging percentage for the Waves, collecting 18 extra-base hits.
“There is always a sense of anticipation and excitement leading up to Opening Day and this year is no different,” said Gary Roller, Mustangs General Manager. “As I’m sure all Mustangs fans throughout the area are, we’re looking forward to not only Friday night, but the entire season, to see the development of the players as individuals as well as the progress that the team makes as a whole. We hope that the experience this group brings to Billings will contribute to successes on the field throughout the season.”
The Mustangs have a new start time for home games this summer, moving their evening contests Monday through Saturday to a 6:35 p.m. scheduled first pitch at Dehler Park. Sunday matinees will remain a 1:05 p.m. start.
2019 marks the 67th year of Billings Mustangs baseball and the 46th consecutive as the affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.
The Mustangs open the ’19 Pioneer League season at Dehler Park in Billings on Friday when they play host to the Idaho Falls Chukars at 6:35 p.m. MDT.
(Editor’s note: Billings Mustangs media release contributed to this report)