TROY — The son of former Major League Baseball shortstop and manager Ozzie Guillen and coming off a five-year minor league playing career of his own, 27-year-old Ozney Guillen is in his first season managing with the Tri-City ValleyCats.
His biggest focus to this point has been player development. Guillen has directed the majority of his effort through the first month of his rookie managerial season into teaching the Houston Astros' way of baseball, and helping his players adjust to being professionals.
“It is the main thing. That, to us, it’s the main thing. This is the first step for them,” Guillen said recently. “So, as soon as they get to the next step, they have to be ready and ready to play in that system. Here, we teach it, and when you move up, and up, and up is when we’re comfortable with you knowing that you’re 100% sure what you’re doing and where you have to be.”
This can at times be challenging for a young coaching staff, as well as a young team when the results are not showing in the win column as they often have not this year. After winning last year's New York-Penn League title, the ValleyCats were 15-22 heading into Thursday's action.
“We do a good job of letting them know we’re not looking at your results, we’re looking at how hard you hit the ball, how far you hit the ball, how hard you’re throwing, how you’re actually progressing in the system,” Guillen said. “Stats to us don’t mean a lot. Like I said, we’re in short season. We’re here to develop these guys.
“So if we see development in all the metrics that we use, then that to us is a plus. Game results would be nice, but maybe in High A or Double A, those stats will show up”.
Before being named manager of the ValleyCats, Guillen was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2010 MLB Draft after playing college baseball at Miami-Dade College and Saint Thomas University. Guillen went on to play in independent and Venezuelan leagues.
These experiences, along with the experience of growing up in a baseball family, are ones that Guillen is able to reflect on in managing his players.
“Being terrible a lot,” Guillen said with a big smile before laughing. “Just being good, being bad. The ups, the downs. Everywhere I’ve played, I’ve played with big-league guys, I’ve played with guys that are in jail [now], I’ve played with guys that are dead [now]. I’ve played with a lot of people. Growing up in a big-league family, being able to share experiences with guys and seeing how they go about the business. Just my experiences and being hurt a lot, too, with the mental aspect of the game.
"People don’t realize how hard it is to play baseball. Showing up every day when your 0 for 40 and you’re in the lineup every day because [the team] is paying you a certain amount of money and you have to go play and you’re going to get booed.”
One of the major things he took away from the way his father managed players was to be honest.
“It helps you get through to them a lot faster, I realized,” Guillen said. “I feel like when you’re honest with your friends, your family, your kids, your co-workers — you’re going to get more results quicker. Especially when your facing adversity. I think when you’re honest with each other, you let them know your sticking to this plan. You let them know why and you let them know that you’re always on their side. No matter what they know, I have their back and even just the stuff outside of baseball.”
Guillen said that he is much more reserved and quieter than his dad was in both life and managing, though he believes his dad would love certain aspects of the Astros’ system.
Growing up in a professional baseball locker room helped Guillen cross paths with multiple figures who impacted him besides his father. In particular, one figure he mentioned was Alex Cora. The now 43-year-old Cora played 14 seasons in the major leagues as a shortstop and second basemen, winning a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2007. He is now the manager of the Red Sox and led the team to a World Series victory in 2018 after being a member of the 2017 World Series-champion Astros’ coaching staff.
“The way they carried themselves, I think of people like for example like Alex Cora," Guillen said. “Went to the University of Miami, which is hard, man. Graduated. Played professional baseball. Made a baseball career. Never got in trouble. That’s respectful.
“And my dad’s side, people look at my dad, they think he’s crazy. My dad, he’s never gotten a DUI. My dad’s never been arrested. Never been doing anything crazy. He’s been married to the same woman since he was 18 years old. Got three kids. We’ve never been to jail. All three of us are educated, great family. I love my family more than anything, and that’s not just saying that. . . . And my dad being able to guide me, that’s awesome.”
Guillen said injuries were one of the major issues that impacted his own playing career.
“My shoulder popped out three times in one year,” Guillen said. “Not the only time it’s popped out in my life. It’s probably at like 12 right now. Concussion. Ran into a pole, had a pelvic shift. My hand is completely sideways. Fracture, complete break. I didn’t have all the talent in the world. During the beginning of my career, I did have a lot of talent, but toward the end, I was running on fumes and one arm.”
He said he tells his players talent alone will only take them so far, and that their mind and heart will take them further. Guillen noted that some of his favorite players that he’s coached so far have been the ones that are not only the funniest, but also go out of their way to help their teammates the most.
“[Grae] Kessinger was one of them. Korey Lee [and] Juan Paulino [are] awesome, Manny Ramirez [and] our pitchers [are] awesome, and Nate Perry,” Guillen said. “They’re just guys that like; I’m not even going to say I like coaching them, because I like the way they coach other guys. And I like the way they go out of their way to help other people and I think that’s a big deal. You can be very selfish in this game, and when you’re not selfish, I think you get the most back. It’s very nice to see these guys succeed.”
Tyrell Feaster is an intern at The Daily Gazette. Feaster, a junior at the University at Albany, is majoring in journalism.