A.J. Hinch is a name that was pretty consistently mentioned during the Astros managerial search, but was often overlooked for names like Dave Martinez, Torey Lovullo and more recently Jeff Bannister and Phil Nevin. Not surprisingly Jeff Luhnow did it again, in selecting the guy no one was talking about. So who is the new Astros skipper, A.J. Hinch?
Hinch was drafted three times: first by the Chicago White Sox in the 2nd round of the 1992 draft; then by the Minnesota Twins in the 3rd round of the 1995 draft; and finally by the Oakland Athletics in the 3rd round of 1996. When he finally decided to take the dive into professional baseball, he spent exactly one season in the minor leagues. After posting a .983 OPS as a Modesto A in High Class-A, he was promoted to the A's Class-AAA squad the Edmonton Trappers, where he posted a 1.001 OPS in 39 games.
Prior to the 1998 season, Hinch was rated #42 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America. He would go on to play seven years as a catcher in the big leagues with the: Oakland A's; Kansas City Royals; Detroit Tigers; and Philadelphia Phillies. His offensive ability that had seemed so bright in the minor leagues came up short in the minor leagues and he was done as a player after the 2004 season. His rise in baseball, however, would continue on the field.
Hinch joined the Arizona Diamondbacks organization after the 2005 season and filled in at a variety of roles, culminating in him being named Vice President of Player Development in 2009. He took over the Diamondbacks manager position on May 8, 2009. The team would finish 70-92 (queue: twilight zone music). On July 1, 2010, Hinch was fired, along with Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes who had refused to fire Hinch.
Hinch would work again with Josh Byrnes in San Diego as Vice President of professional scouting with the Padres. After Byrnes was fired, the GM duties were split between Omar Minaya, AJ Hinch and Fred Uhlman Jr. Hinch was given the decision making aspect of the role. Once AJ Preller was named the general manager of the Padres Hinch resigned from his position.
Now he's been named the manager of an Astros organization that is on an up swing.
Thoughts on the hiring
I'm intrigued by the psychology degree from Stanford University and that he shunned being drafted high twice to apparently finish his college degree. From what I've gathered he's a really smart baseball person. R.A. Dickey who was teammates with Hinch on the 1996 Atlanta Olympics team said as much in New York Times article about Hinch:
"It does seem surreal that he's their manager. I always thought of him as a G.M. or assistant G.M. But being a leader? that part makes perfect sense to me. I don't consider it a freakish experiment because he's smart, has the qualities to get the best out of his guys and builds great relationships. He'll just have to learn the X's and O's on the fly"
The words "builds great relationships" sticks out to me as something the Astros were looking for in their new manager. I think they want someone who's not only going to build relationships with players but also with personnel in the front office. His background and experience fits perfectly with what the Astros are looking for. I'm intrigued to see what he brings to this club next year.