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Astros Hire Alex Cora as Bench Coach

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41-year-old former infielder reportedly tapped as A.J. Hinch's second in command

Al Bello/Getty Images

Yesterday afternoon, the Astros confirmed the hiring of Alex Cora as the team's new bench coach, filling the opening left by Trey Hillman. Hillman, who served as bench coach under A.J. Hinch for two seasons, announced his departure in late October to take a managerial post in South Korea.

Cora played fourteen major league years as a somewhat-journeyman infielder, starting his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998 and retiring as a Washington National in 2011, with many stops in between. He hit .243/.310/.338 for his career, and won a World Series with Boston in 2007. Advanced fielding metrics that have been popularized since his playing days are a little kinder to Cora - he registered 10 defensive runs saved as a second baseman, and 20 as a shortstop for his career.

It's after his playing days, though, where Cora's career really might be taking off. He began work with ESPN as a Baseball Tonight analyst in 2013, but has mainly been rumored in a multitude of managerial openings around baseball. He reportedly interviewed for the Miami, Washington and San Diego openings last winter, as well as the Arizona job which went to Torey Lovullo earlier this month.

Though he's been known as a coveted managerial candidate for quite some time, Cora has struck out multiple times on open managerial posts. The Padres job was filled by Andy Green, a candidate with the same (read: zero) managerial experience as Cora, and Lovullo's appointment in Arizona was probably more to do with his familiarity with the new regime that came from Boston. However, Washington and Miami both opted for more experienced managers (Dusty Baker and Don Mattingly respectively) to lead teams that were closer to "win-now" mode. Whether or not Cora's issues getting a managerial opening are anything to do with his Latino heritage (many other Latino candidates with tons of baseball coaching experience, such as Dave Martinez, Sandy Alomar, and Alex's brother Joey also have struck out on interviews), he now lands in Houston, which seems like a prime location for a prospective managerial candidate.

Trey Hillman's experience in the minors, Japan and Kansas City prior to his tenure in Houston put nearly 3000 games under his managerial belt. This made him a logical option to coach under A.J. Hinch, who was not without apparent baseball intelligence and a good connection to the saber-friendly front office when hired in 2014, but was lacking in sheer amount of experience running a ballclub. Hillman served this role well, but the last two seasons of competitive baseball has certainly given Hinch the requisite experience to lead a team on his own.

Enter Cora: A coach who may not have the managerial experience like Hillman did, but brings his own clear strengths that make this a fantastic hire. First and foremost, Cora, a native of Puerto Rico, brings the added benefit of former player who happens to come from a Latino background to a team stocked with current players who also happen to come from Latino backgrounds. It's hard not to see Cora immediately connecting with countryman Carlos Correa, as well as the many Latin American players throughout the Astros organization.

Cora also draws rave reviews on his communication skills and ability to relate to all players. Though this seems like an obvious skill for an MLB coach, Cora brings his fourteen years of playing experience, where he crossed paths with literally hundreds of players, and plenty of major league clubhouses that each exhibited a different, dynamic chemistry. If Cora doesn't have the necessary experience from a major league front office to run a team yet, one can be assured he will have that within two or three years working in Houston, or elsewhere.

Bonus highlight: Not to be forgotten is Cora's insane eighteen pitch at-bat off of Matt Clement in 2004. If you haven't seen this before, watch until the very end (or fast forward to the 2:35 mark if you're on a time crunch). Also, Vin Scully graces our ears once more.