Former teammates now managers: Espada, Hinch bond

February 26th, 2024
A.J. Hinch catches up with former Minor League teammate and former Houston bench coach, Joe Espada. (Brian McTaggart/

LAKELAND, Fla. -- From their early days as up-and-coming prospects in Oakland’s system, Astros manager Joe Espada and Tigers manager A.J. Hinch have remained friends and confidants. Along the way, they spent three seasons working on the same staff in Houston and on Monday afternoon took their nearly 30-year relationship to another level when they were in opposing dugouts as rival managers.

Both wearing orange caps, they spent time together laughing and reminiscing prior to the Astros’ 4-0 loss against the Tigers at Publix Field and recalled their first year in the A’s system in 1996. Espada, a second-round pick by Oakland in 1996, and Hinch, a third-round pick that same year, were even part of a benches-clearing brawl when they were on different A-ball teams -- Espada was on Visalia and Hinch on Modesto.

“We emptied the dugouts during that one series,” Espada said. “The next year, we started playing together and we were in Double-A and moved up the chain together through the system.”

Espada’s playing career topped out at Triple-A; Hinch reached the big leagues, but as a player didn’t live up to the potential he once had in the Minor Leagues. Still, they both reached the peak of the profession as managers, with Espada taking over for Dusty Baker following last season. Espada spent six years as Houston’s bench coach and worked under two World Series-winning managers in Hinch and Baker.

“We’ve remained close, and I consider him a friend off the field,” Hinch said. “I considered him somebody I really respect on the field. I reached out to him [when he was hired] and I knew his phone was going to blow up. We’ve interacted a ton since he got the job, and he knows I’m always here to be kind of a sounding board to any questions in the transition.”

Hinch became a manager in 2009 with the D-backs and managed in Arizona for a little more than a year. He took over as Astros manager in 2015 and led them to the 2017 World Series title. At season’s end, Astros bench coach Alex Cora was headed to the Red Sox to be their next manager. Hinch knew immediately who he wanted to be his next bench coach.

“It was as no-brainer for me,” Hinch said. “His baseball IQ is off the chart. The way he sees the game, his attention to detail, the passion in which he demands everybody to get a little bit better. They’re all bench coach attributes but also manager attributes. He’s learned under a lot of different styles of mangers, some experienced and some inexperienced, some progressive and some even more traditional.

“And I think that’s been a great opportunity for him to develop his own identity, but if you have a full baseball conversation with him, I always came away with something to think about and felt like he would be a manager in time. It’s taken a while because of the opportunities, not because of anything Joe did or didn’t have.”

Espada, a native of Puerto Rico, played for 10 seasons in the Minor Leagues (1996-2005) after being selected by the A’s out of the University of Mobile. He spent time in the Oakland, Florida, Colorado, Kansas City, St. Louis, Texas and Tampa Bay organizations as a player.

After retiring, he coached in the Marlins' system from 2006-13, joining the Major League club as third-base coach in 2010. He spent four seasons (2014-17) with the Yankees as a scout and third-base coach (2015-17) before Hinch brought him to Houston.

“I owe him a lot,” Espada said. “A.J., not only have I worked for him, but he’s been a friend throughout the years. He’s been always trying to find opportunities for us to work together and that loyalty and respect I value a lot. I learned a lot from him -- how to organize, how respectful he is, how he puts a team together, how he managed the game. There’s a lot of things he does really well that I’ve learned through the years.”

Hinch is known as a great communicator with his players, and he’s told Espada the manager’s office can be a lonely place if he doesn’t stay connected to the players.

“You’ll see him out on the field with Jose [Altuve] or Jeremy [Peña] or [Alex] Bregman,” Hinch said. “The infield part of his responsibilities will change, but his connection to the players won’t.”