Hinch scouting Tigers' roster for some time
New skipper excited for 2021 crop, underway with player outreach
Before A.J. Hinch became a household name as Astros manager, he was an assistant general manager in San Diego, where his duties included director of pro scouting. When Ron Gardenhire retired as Tigers manager in September, Hinch went back to his scouting roots and did some advanced work on the roster.
“I got to watch some games at the tail end of 2020 on TV,” Hinch said during a Thursday video conference with beat writers. “Once I knew Gardy had retired and they had given me interest that they knew they wanted me to interview, I paid a lot closer attention and got to watch games and study some video.”
Now that Hinch is the Tigers' manager, he has started to reach out to Detroit players to not only introduce himself but get their observations and opinions on what happened this past season.
“It's one thing for me to look at it,” Hinch said, “but I want to hear it through their sort of their words and their eyes on what each individual guy needs to do.”
Those conversations began this week with Matthew Boyd and Miguel Cabrera. Hinch reached out to Buck Farmer and joked with him about being the elder statesman of a young bullpen, with the right-hander's 30th birthday coming up in February. In the process of those conversations, Hinch has gained some insight of what went well and what didn’t in order to complement what he saw.
“The strength of this team is the youthful talent,” Hinch said. “Some of them got to the big leagues potentially even sooner than advertised or sooner than they needed to be. It was a weird year to be able to do that and get guys up and get some bats or get some innings. But I think when you assess what went right, I think we have to simplify both ends of the pitching and hitting, and continue to build on what these guys' strengths are and what makes them good.”
Like many who have watched Tigers games the last few years, Hinch took notice of the strikeouts from hitters -- most in the Majors in 2019, second most in the American League this season.
“Obviously, the swing-and-miss on offense, you know, it's not like I can tell them, 'Hey, don't swing and miss.' We need to swing and miss less. Like, that's pretty obvious,” Hinch said. “But building a team offense and a team identity, there's a time to swing for extra-base hits. There's also a time to have a team offense that just produces a run with a little bit of other ways. The ball in play is your friend when the infield's back and a runner's on third. That takes a different approach and a different game plan that needs to be instilled in these guys.”
Hinch noted some positive marks in younger hitters.
“I do like Willi Castro coming up and having success. That's going to be a big step forward,” Hinch said. “I think Niko Goodrum, there's a ton of opportunity to clean up some of his offensive approach in his swing. His impact is felt all the time. He’s a Gold Glove defender who can play … just about every other position that you asked him to do. That's extremely valuable to a manager.
“And then, obviously the Jeimer Candelario breakthrough, I want to kind of figure out how and why and what happened and continue to build off that. Daz Cameron hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he can do. So I just see guys making subtle adjustments -- some with experience, some with mechanics and approach -- and that'll give us a better indication on where they factor in moving forward.”
Hinch has some knowledge of Cameron from the Astros' farm system, before the outfield prospect and former first-round Draft pick joined the Tigers in the 2017 Justin Verlander trade. Hinch is less familiar with catcher Jake Rogers.
“I think that Jake is going to have an opportunity to make an impression. I love the catching position, obviously,” said Hinch, a Major League catcher for parts of seven seasons. “But it's a blessing and a curse to play for an ex-catcher when you're a catcher.
"His tools are really good. I think he can shut down a running game. He can do some things athletically behind the plate that you can't teach. We need to bring his whole game together, whether it's the running of the game, game calling, to mixing in the attraction of being an offensive player and how to separate those two things and not bringing your offense to your defense, having some identity on what kind of offensive player he's been.”
The Tigers have discussed adding a catcher to the mix, Hinch said, something they did last offseason with veteran Austin Romine.
On the pitching side, Hinch noted Boyd as “someone that has had success in the past, has had a little bit of a tougher stretch lately pitching, pitch usage, a little bit more consolidated on game-planning, pitching to some strengths, some areas of the strike zone.”
On Detroit’s younger pitching, Hinch said, “It would be entirely unfair to label them and the seasons that they had in 2020 as the type of pitchers that they're going to be. The upside with these guys is off the charts. I love that Michael Fulmer got through a portion of the season in a very structured way, where it was kind of almost like an opener but he was just building some strength back. I think he has -- not untapped potential because he's been an All-Star before -- but I think getting him a full season, he can anchor a staff if asked. I mean, he's that type of talent once we get him healthy and back up and running.”