Detroit Tigers’ AJ Hinch explains his affinity for utility players, and how to manage them

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This office, AJ Hench, made a return to the Managers Club, a special group of 30 people headed to MLB teams. On tuesday Detroit Tiger managers joined their teammates in a video conference with the commissioner’s office.

Among the topics discussed were spring training for 2021. Pitchers and catchers will report in mid-February, followed by players’ status a few days later.

The message from the league is to proceed as scheduled. But there are uncertainties about the COVID-19 epidemic. In addition, the ongoing debate between the MLB and the Players Association about when the 2021 season will begin and how many games will be played may force a standstill.

[ Tigers’ 2021 spring training schedule looks like typical Grapefruit League slate ]

“We didn’t have any formal date in front of us except when the schedule was out,” Hinch said Wednesday. “Assuming normal spring training and things of that nature. We didn’t hear anything different. … We were just asked to stand up, and they would get back in touch when there was more information about the plan. “

Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch inspired to call the bullpen as he turned the mound during the third inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Washington Nationals in West Raynda Beach, Fla () on March 3, 2019 Leaves for the mound.  Globe Live Media Photo / Jeff Roberson)
Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch inspired to call the bullpen as he turned the mound during the third inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Washington Nationals in West Raynda Beach, Fla () on March 3, 2019 Leaves for the mound. Globe Live Media Photo / Jeff Roberson)

The Tigers are scheduled to open the competition against Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida on February 26 before the Grapefruit League action the following day against the New York Yankees in Tampa. Inauguration Day is scheduled for April 1 at Comerica Park against the Cleveland Indians.

“Our players are going to start working towards planning for spring,” Hinch said. “And we have to make some kind of resolution on security protocols, times and things of that nature.”

[ How AJ Hinch will approach players about COVID-19 vaccine ]

According to USA Today Sports, MLB officials and owners want players vaccinated before spring training, meaning it will be delayed until May and will be 140 games or less.

The Players Association, however, wants an April start date, a 162-game season, and full pay for players.

“I hope they will be able to get together as soon as possible,” Hench said, “but he is outside my house with both parties. I don’t know. Sooner will be better for everyone in the game.”

A deep love for versatility

Nothing Hinch seems to enjoy more than the versatility on his roster.

Nico Gudram has major league experience at seven positions. Willie Castro can serve at shortstop and second base. Jeimer Candelario is able to switch between first and third base. Jacoby Jones and Victor Reyes can play all three outfield positions. And Isaac Parade may end up as the third and second baseman.

Even Spencer Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick in 2020 who played first base at Arizona State, is getting reps at third base.

Detroit Tigers top prospect Spencer Torkelson in November 2020 while playing instructional league in Lakeland, Florida.
Detroit Tigers top prospect Spencer Torkelson in November 2020 while playing instructional league in Lakeland, Florida.

“Being able to maneuver players around the field and still make them good allows me to create any combination of players on the field that gives us the best chance to win,” Hinch said. “It allows Al (Avila, the Tigers general manager) to sign any player he wants, and we can move people around. It’s really important not to have too many people in just one place. But be able to play every single day. “

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To provide an example, Hinch referred to Marvin Gonzalez, who spent seven of his nine seasons with the Houston Astros. In four of his seven years in Houston, Hench worked as the team’s manager.

In his career, Gonzalez played shortstop, first base, third base, second base and all three outfield, including a .261 batting average, 96 home runs and 369 RBIs. Hinch considers him “an everyday player, (but) that he did not yet know what to do on the field.”

When the Astros won the World Series in 2017, Gonzalez – currently a free agent – hit .303 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs in 134 games.

“I think it’s more valuable throughout the industry,” Hinch said. “Friends are being paid who can do that. It’s one way (to make the utility role attractive to players), just let them know how the good guys have succeeded in those roles. Also, Being very straightforward. You can’t hide it. Players. Communication is the key. Integrity is the key.

“You’re inspiring the player why you’re doing this. It’s a generation of players who want to know, and I think they’re worth clarifying. Now I’ve got examples of success stories, “Can share with players in Detroit. They will understand how much better it is for us if you give me more options. “

New rules in 2020

Hench spent the 2020 season, serving his year-long MLB suspension for his role in the 2017 Astro sign-theft conspiracy. As his approach shifted from manager to audience, he focused on the new rules.

Most influential rules added: extra innings, seven-inning double headers, three-batter minimums for relievers, extended roster and second-base universally designated hitter to start extended postson, runner. It is not clear which of these rules will be in place in 2021. The teams were asked to proceed under the “Athletic wise DH will not be used in the NL this year”.

“I think I’d keep a lot of them, if not all of them,” Hinch said. “My outlook changed over the years. I was very nervous touching the game’s strategy. As I was a fan last year, I saw why those things could actually be fascinating.”

Detroit Tigers hitter Miguel Cabrera & # xa0;  (24), who was at Kauffman Stadium on September 25, 2020 after striking out during the first inning against the Kansas City Royals on Friday.
The Detroit Tigers reacted after dismissing hitter Miguel Cabrera (24) during the first inning against the Kansas City Royals on Friday, September 25, 2020 at Kaufman Stadium.

Universal’s designated hitter, Hench said, will improve crime and maintain health. He believes that there are traditionalists who still want to see the pitchers swinging, but believes that the game will grow as crime improves.

In Hench’s managerial career, he spent two years in the NL with the Arizona Diamondbacks (2009–10).

“Baseball is really slow to develop and slow to accept change,” Hinch said. “We’ve seen it with the slide rule for years and not running above the catcher, just keeping your fingers up to keep going deliberately instead of throwing four balls. The game has fully recovered, and I think There are a few things. We can continue to make the point that the game might not have as much impact as we are anticipating already. I love DH again in front of the board. “

At first, Hinch did not like the rule of extra innings, where a runner starts at second base. He changed his mind when he realized it was “very exciting” to watch. But he does not know how he would react to it as a manager, paying attention to it in 2021.

“Now, I haven’t lost the game as a manager with that extra-innings rule, so maybe I’ll change my mind,” Hinch said. “But out of all those rules, as an observer watching from outside, it seemed like they were overwhelmingly successful.”

Hinch was the least early against three batsmen. He did not enjoy how the game’s strategy was being destroyed. But looking from his couch, he realized that it is “not as harmful to the game as we probably expected.”

If this rule stays then the versatility of its relief pitcher will be tested.

“We challenge our pitchers to be versatile, and you want us to be able to take both sides out,” Hinch said. “There are ways to escape at the end of the inning, but I have no worries in bringing a man in, ‘Man, I hope he gets this lefty out before Mike Trout,’ or, ‘I hope he This man is kicked out before Mookie Bates. “There is some danger that I have not yet experienced.”

Here are some other notes from Hinch’s media session.

Adding Jose Cruz Jr. as assistant coach: “Well, I’ve followed Cruise Jr. for a few years. We’ve had a few openings on the previous coaching staff that I have, and I’ve teased him about whether he wants to go into coaching. Incredible person. He A great feeling with the players. This is one of his jobs with the Players Association. He became a resource for players around the league. I reached out to him, and I followed him for a number Made a relationship. Years. We played together on Team USA years ago. I kept in touch with him, played against him. I’ve seen him again and again at major-league ballparks.

“Again, it was a coaching staff that I was keeping organically with Al, and it became very clear that with (Scott) Coolbag as our primary antidote coach, with Cruz Jr. being the all-new coach Fully fit, but a very strong resume coaching coach in general. But especially in the mara department, where he can impress players the way he has throughout his life. “

Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera (soon) Management: “It’s incredible. I’m so lucky to have been around Jose and do incredible things. He is a great man, an incredible family man, bringing energy and excellence to the ballpark every day. I have learned so much from him How else. Goes about his business. And then I’ve also seen him interacting with Miggy from the other side, so I know they’re very close. I’m sure Miggy talked to Jose and Our relationship came to life. There have been around incredible players across the board, especially Jose and soon to be Miggy. When I look at my career, when I’m managing, they Both would top my list. “

Intentional walking: “I had a lot of time, and I thought about a lot of things. I can’t say that it was high on my priority list. It’s never something I rush to do. A lot in ’19 Noticed. And I think there is a place for it. I am not against it. I did it in the World Series against Juan Soto. My general belief is that when you are intentionally adding runners you fire again and again. Adding fuel to the fire. To free the base. I’m going to lose a game on the insistence of not intentionally releasing a walk. I will. ‘There were times in 19 that I was on the verge of doing it , And then the state of the game. Or the base runner changed. It wouldn’t be something you see a lot of. I’m not against anything, but I don’t do that often. “

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern in the Detroit Free Press. Contact her at or follow her on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

This article originally told the Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers AJ Hench about the value of utility players

Travis M. Andrews
Travis M. Andrews is a features writer for The Washington Post. He joined The Post in 2016 as a reporter for Morning Mix. He was previously a travel and culture editor for Southern Living magazine, a contributing pop culture reporter for Mashable and the Week, and a contributing editor for the Syfy blog Dvice. He also has freelanced for magazines, including Esquire, GQ and Time. He is the author of the coming book "Because He's Jeff Goldblum," a semi-rumination and semi-ridiculous look at the career of the enigmatic actor and an exploration of the shifting nature of fame in the 21st century, to be published in November by Plume.