Thursday night I had the opportunity to attend a Town Hall meeting with A.J. Hinch hosted by Bill Brown inside Union Station for season ticket holders. Since Hinch was not at Fan Fest I was very pleased to get to hear his side of things. A very likable guy, Hinch reminisced about the victories in 2015 and talked about plans for 2016 with the enthusiastic audience for an hour.
Hinch answered a question about his favorite moment of 2015 commenting on what he saw as the season turning point: An August weekend series against the first place Dodgers. I remember kind of feeling iffy about that weekend because we had gone 5-5 in the last 10 games and I didn’t know what to expect from Fiers, Kazmir & McCullers. Fiers pitched a no hitter to start out a series sweep. Hinch recalls turning to bench coach Trey Hillman and saying “Our guys believe.”
The topic I was looking forward to hearing A.J. speak about the most was first base. Calling this the only open competition at Spring Training he continued “One thing that’s changed on our team… there are no freebies. Someone’s got to win this job.” The only specific thing he said about Jon Singleton was “It’s time for him to step up”. He mentioned opportunities for Matt Duffy, A.J. Reed, Tyler White, Marwin Gonzalez, Luis Valbuena to all try on the first base glove. Valbuena may be more favored at third base though with Hinch saying that his defense at the left corner was very underrated.
Talking about the seriousness of production on the field for the upcoming season Hinch stated “We have to earn our keep around here. We have a culture here where we’re going to accept younger players. When they come up here I don’t want the excuse of they’re a young player.” When discussing at bats for all the talent that in the clubhouse Hinch said “These guys are going to have to fight for playing time.”
A big topic of discussion among fans has been clubhouse culture and team chemistry. Hinch when he first came to the Astros organization said he hoped to create a culture of fun in the clubhouse and seriousness on the field and the field ended up being fun too. Hinch said that while he is responsible to set the culture, the players are responsible to take care of the chemistry. With the core of the team returning he believes that the team chemistry will be on point.
A few more quick highlights:
-Hinch is pissed that the Rangers have the Silver Boot and he wants it back.
-He believes that this is going to be a higher production year for Jason Castro.
-A.J. talked a little about the bench clearing incident with the Rangers back in July of last year. Feeling the need to protect his starting pitcher Colin McHugh, who Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder had in one hand, he grabbed Fielders wrist and then Rangers manager Jeff Bannister felt the need to protect his players. Hinch said, however, that kind of tension between teams can be fun.
Fun may be the best way I can describe the 2015 season. A.J. Hinch said there is a high confidence that the team will be able to replicate the success of last season as well as surpass it. Well, if that’s the case I believe 2016 could be very fun.
Thanks to Eric Huysman from Climbing Tal's Hill for letting me tag along.