HOUSTON -- AJ Hinch roamed around a field on a sunny Saturday with a fungo bat by his side, hitting some grounders to infielders and even getting into a crouch and giving some catching lessons. It wasn't unlike what he'll be doing in about a month when Spring Training starts, but his pupils on this day can only dream of the big leagues.
Hinch, who was the keynote speaker at the Oklahoma Christian University baseball banquet on Friday, flew back to Houston early Saturday and participated in the inaugural CC Baseball Camp at Lutheran South High School in Houston.
The camp, which is run by former big league players Jarred Cosart and Matt Clark, saw about 30 wide-eyed teenagers taking tips from Hinch, Cosart, Clark, former Astros player Geoff Blum and Astros infielder Tyler White.
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"Those that love baseball love baseball, and we get to be around kids in January and talk baseball," said Hinch, who's entering his fifth season as Astros manager. "It's a lot of fun. These kids have a lot of passion, and it's nice to be out here."
Astros pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training on Feb. 12 with World Series aspirations after falling short last year, losing in five games to the eventual champion Red Sox in the American League Championship Series to end their reign as champs. But first things first.
The Astros will have two of their key players coming off injuries when camp starts: All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve had surgery in October to repair a fractured kneecap, and All-Star third baseman Alex Bregman underwent surgery Friday in Houston to remove bone chips from his right elbow.
"I was upset just because you hate to see any of your players go through that," Hinch said of Bregman. "We couldn't be more fortunate of the timing. Yes, it does cut into his Spring Training, yes it does delay him a little bit, but that would have been a terrible thing to happen in April or May or June, July, any time during the season. From what I've heard, everything has gone well, and he's super motivated to get back on a timeline that's very aggressive, and we'll get him healthy and get him right for the start of the season."
Bregman will be limited at the start of Spring Training and told MLB.com on Friday he's targeting the Astros' March 1 Grapefruit League game for a return to the field in a game situation. The Astros will have enough players early in spring to cover Bregman's reps at third.
Hinch also revealed that the club's No. 23 prospect, third baseman Abraham Toro, will be in big league camp this spring. He hit .247 with a .345 on-base percentage, a .779 OPS, 16 homers and 78 RBIs in 133 games last year combined at Class A Advanced Buies Creek and Double-A Corpus Christi.
"We'll have plenty of bodies in spring, and some of the younger guys will get some reps," Hinch said. "I'll move Yuli Gurriel over there, we'll put Aledmys Diaz there, Tyler White will go field some ground balls over there. We'll have plenty of coverage."
Hinch said Altuve has been at Minute Maid Park working out this offseason. He underwent surgery Oct. 19 to repair a patella (kneecap) avulsion fracture in his right knee. He played through knee pain for much of the second half of the season and the playoffs.
"Jose's been diligent with his rehab, and it's nice to see him running," Hinch said.
Things will soon ramp for Hinch, with the team's annual caravan taking place Jan. 22-24 ahead of FanFest, which is Jan. 26 in Minute Maid Park.
"January hits and these guys start thinking about Spring Training," he said. "It's a month away. It starts coming back a little bit. Guys start coming back into town for FanFest and the gala and some of the activities. It's almost go time."