Astros' coaching staff excited about coming season

Astros' coaching staff excited about coming season

HOUSTON -- A few of the new Astros coaches who have assembled along with the rest of the staff this week at Minute Maid Park talked Wednesday about the contagious energy and attention to detail that have been brought about by new manager A.J. Hinch.

Hinch, who's not one to take shortcuts, worked methodically and diligently to put together the field staff, which got together for the first time as a group this week for meetings and team building. The coaching staff had dinner with owner Jim Crane on Tuesday night and took in the Rockets' game Wednesday against Memphis.

Prior to heading down the street to Toyota Center, Hinch and the coaches held a meet and greet with the Houston media at Minute Maid Park.

"For him to be able to put together a staff with this quality of people, we're excited," said assistant hitting coach Alan Zinter, the former Astros player who's on a Major League staff for the first time. "To be able to get to know each other better before we get to Spring Training, it just eases things and makes it a little smoother."

Zinter is one of a handful of newcomers to the Astros' coaching staff for 2015, joining bench coach Trey Hillman, hitting coach Dave Hudgens, first-base coach Rich Dauer and third-base coach Gary Pettis. Pitching coach Brent Strom and bullpen coach Craig Bjornson will be back for a second consecutive year.

Dauer is recovering from knee replacement surgery and wasn't able to travel to Houston.

"I do think this is a very unique staff that has the characteristics needed to get us better and be here for the players," Hinch said. "Some have Astros ties; some don't. What they all do have is a passion. They're great people, they're going to be very accessible, and you'll enjoy getting to know them and their stories.

"There's a lot of experience on this staff, but the loyalty and work ethic that's already here, and the camaraderie we're building these first couple of days, is going to make a seamless entry into 2015. That's the purpose of these meetings."

Hinch and several of his coaches, including Hillman, talked as if they were ready for Spring Training to start this week. And the staff is already looking ahead in detail to 2015, in that they went over some defensive strategies and offensive game plans during meetings Wednesday.

"The baseball talk is the fun part," Hinch said. "Once you get to put that in and see your vision on the field and improve in some areas in which this team is a little deficient, that's what you want to see."

Like Hinch, Hillman comes with a diverse resume and said he's happy to be a bench coach at this point in his career. Before he spent one season as a special assistant for the Yankees this past year, he was the bench coach for the Dodgers for three years and managed the Royals from 2008-10. He also managed five seasons in Japan and won a championship.

In only a matter of a few hours, he could sense the Astros' new staff was cohesive.

"That's one of the coolest things about the staff he's put together here with Strommy and C.B. coming back," Hillman said. "We've only been together for a couple of days, but there's no question what's important and on everybody's mind, and that's to serve these players. These meetings have been paramount for me."

Pettis, who will handle the outfield and baserunning, is coming to a new situation after spending eight seasons (2007-14) on the staff of the Rangers. Prior to that, he worked on the Major League staffs of the Mets (2003-04) and White Sox (2001-02) as first-base and outfield coach.

"It's like any new beginning," Pettis said. "You have to spend time with someone to get to know them, and I think this has been a good start to what we expect to be a good year. Coming here and getting to know everyone and what they like to do and they're respected areas and listen to them talk about it, [that] has been a very good experience."

Hudgens has known Hinch for quite some time and has talked to Zinter over the years, so being able to renew acquaintances and meet some new faces has been beneficial.

"I think we've got a good, quality staff," said Hudgens, who served as hitting coach of the Mets the past four seasons. "Guys are passionate about what they do and want to help younger guys get better. We've got good players. I'm excited to be here."

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.