Hinch eager to start getting to know players

New manager has strong handle on talent pool, now wants to connect personally

Hinch eager to start getting to know players

HOUSTON -- A.J. Hinch said all the right things when he was introduced to the media at a press conference Monday at Minute Maid Park as the Astros' new manager, which wasn't easy considering how many questions he was peppered with throughout the day.

Hinch spoke about his family, his passion for baseball and what he plans to do to turn the Astros into a winner. He was even asked about his relationship with former manager Bo Porter, who is a former teammate and was on his staff in Arizona.

The 40-year-old with a degree in psychology from Stanford was ready for any question. Much of his thoughts were covered in Monday's coverage at MLB.com, but here's Hinch on a few other issues that came up:

Hinch began reading up on the Astros when general manager Jeff Luhnow called him a few weeks ago, and it's clear he already has a good handle on the talent: "The arrows point in the right direction. From the outside looking in, without this position either being available or Jeff calling me about it, the talent's real here. You see some of the breakthrough performances, whether it's Collin McHugh, whether it's [Jose] Altuve, whether it's seeing guys come in -- [Jake] Marisnick's September, watching him a little bit closer this September after being contacted by Jeff. … But getting guys their first taste of the big leagues is important, even if it comes in a little bit of a rocky, steady climb to the big leagues.

"So that talent pool is very important, and the hard work of the coaches and seeing guys start to rise up to the occasion means there's some pretty good coaching going on here, which is exciting to see and good continuity to have. … I think the tide's turned. I think there's talent in the Minor Leagues coming."

Hinch probably wouldn't be in Houston had he not embraced analytics: "I do embrace it. I think shifting has definitely impacted the offense part of the game. It's taken away a lot of singles. I think it messes with the hitters' psyche. I need to learn a little bit more about it, but it's part of our game and the analytics and information is golden. You've got to figure out how to use it, when to use it, how much to expose it to the players. All the stuff is factored into putting them in position of how to succeed."

Even though Hinch praised the team repeatedly Monday, he knows there are areas for improvement: "I think we've got to play better defense, first and foremost. Run prevention is going to be very important. You give too many outs to your opponent, you're asking for trouble. I want every area of the game to take at least an incremental step forward and not be satisfied with, 'Well, we were pretty good with our starting rotation.' Can we be a little bit better? Can we turn it just a touch?

"Brent Strom, one of the best pitching coaches around, has really made advances with these guys. Can we get it a little bit better? We have high standards, and want to see teams continually strive and get better. You never have this game perfected ... no matter how well you hit, no matter how well you defend. It's a 162-game grind to tell you how you match up against the other teams and where your organization is."

Every manager has a style, and Hinch offered a hint at what kind of baseball the Astros might play under him: "It's not a one-size-fits-all to win games. You've got to do a little bit of everything well to beat different styles of teams. Run prevention is at a premium right now. Offense is down around the league. Keeping those guys down is very important, it's very difficult in this division that we play 19 times a year each. That makes runs scored very important.

"I like runs that score on three-run homers. I like runs that are created, runs that are put together with back-to-back hits. If you have your preference, you want to put as much pressure on your opponent as you can. If that means starting runners, great. If that means letting Chris Carter hit a three-run homer, that's OK by me, too. It's certainly a strategy. You've got to take advantage of an opponent's weakness and score at least one more run than your opponent."

Hinch is remaining in Houston to this week to get his staff up and running, and soon he'll begin to reach out to the players: "I want to get to know as many people as I can. I'd like to reach out to the players, reach out to the coaches and start to develop a game plan for Jeff on what's next for the next 30, 60 days. I plan on meeting with a lot of players the next couple of months.

"We've got time, because the season ended, but prior to the holidays, I'd like to have a pretty good beginning of relationships with players I don't know or never been around. Guys like [Chad] Qualls, [Gregorio] Petit, [Jesus] Guzman, I've had guys in some way. [Jason] Castro, I'd like to meet and sit with him, talk pitching and things like that. It's not easy now, because they're not in one place."

Hinch wore No. 7 while managing in Arizona and wore several numbers as a player, including No. 7. That number, of course, is retired in Houston because of Craig Biggio, so Hinch slipped on No. 14 on Monday: "One of the best Astros ever is No. 7, and I was going to joke, saying I trust catchers the most, so Alan Ashby wore this number, so it must be OK. And Guzman [who wore 14 for the last season], I had in San Diego. I signed him as a Minor League free agent and he made his way, and he's probably the guy I could talk to the most and say, 'Hey, don't be offended, I'm going to kind of steal your number.'"

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.