HOUSTON — A.J. Hinch was hired as the manager of the Astros on Monday, and general manager Jeff Luhnow is confident he’ll be the man to return Houston to success.
“I think A.J. is going to be the manager that’s going to be here when we win the World Series,” Luhnow said.
Hinch takes over for Bo Porter, who was fired on Sept. 1 in his second year and replaced on an interim baseis by Tom Lawless. The Astros finished 70-92 and fourth in the AL West.
Houston has been in a long rebuilding process and hasn’t finished above .500 since going 86-75 in 2008.
Hinch takes over a team that made a 19-game improvement over last year to end a streak of three straight 100-loss seasons and one that features AL batting champion Jose Altuve.
“The goal is to win championships,” Hinch said. “It’s easy to say but a lot of work. We need to build on the success that this organization has seen.”
Hinch managed Arizona from May 2009 until July 2010, when he was fired after 31-48 start. He was the vice president of professional scouting for San Diego from 2010 until August.
Porter was a first-time manager and Luhnow said he wanted someone that had managerial experience this time around. Hinch was also attractive to Luhnow because he had worked in baseball front offices as well as been a manager.
“He’s well-rounded — understands my perspective,” Luhnow said. “He comes with a breadth of experience that very few guys have. The whole combination, the whole package was very unique.”
The 40-year-old is a former catcher who spent seven seasons in the majors with the Athletics, Royals, Tigers and Phillies.
He thinks his experience with the Diamondbacks will help him in his second shot at managing.
“You learn a lot in this game every day,” Hinch said. “Through getting knocked down a little bit ... through losing a little bit too much you reflect on that and try to get better.”
He wouldn’t put any numbers on what he expects from the team next year.
“We’re going to get this right ... however many wins that means,” Hinch said. “I believe we can do things sooner rather than later.”
Other standouts on his new team are Chris Carter, whose 37 home runs were tied for second in the majors, and Dallas Keuchel, who showed he could be a front-of-the rotation starter.
The Astros still aren’t good but finally have a solid foundation in place.
Altuve finished with a franchise-record 225 hits and a .341 average, which both topped the majors. The 24-year-old also led the AL with 56 stolen bases to go along with 47 doubles and 59 RBIs. He became the first Astro to win a batting title.
“It was a good season for us and what a big improvement,” he said.
A year after leading the team with 29 homers and 82 RBIs, Carter shook off a tough start to again top the Astros in homers and RBIs (88).
“I was able to become more consistent and it’s good that I’ve had some success now and something to go off of and something go into the offseason with,” Carter said.
Keuchel’s 2.93 ERA was another highlight for the Astros and he had a team-leading 12 wins in 29 starts. Houston also got a boost from the development of 27-year-old rookie Collin McHugh, who was claimed off waivers in the offseason. He finished with 11 wins and led the rotation with a 2.73 ERA.
It was also a season where two of the organization’s top prospects finally joined the team in outfielder George Springer and first baseman Jon Singleton.
Springer, the 11th overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft, hit .231 with 20 homers and 51 RBIs in 78 games. His season was cut short when he injured his left quadriceps on July 20 and he didn’t play again. The Astros were encouraged by his adjustment to the majors and are looking forward to his development next year in what will be his first full season in the big leagues.
Singleton, who was considered the top first base prospect in baseball entering the season, didn’t fare nearly as well after signing a $10 million, five-year contract and being called up in June. He hit just .168 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs in 95 games and said the transition to the majors was harder than he expected and that he’ll use the offseason to try and improve to be better in 2015.
Though the Astros certainly weren’t contenders in 2014, for the first time in years they felt like they could at least compete every night. It’s a key shift for a team that had lost 324 games over the previous three years combined, including a franchise-record 111 games in 2013.
“I think we’re the most improved team by far and that’s something that we’re all happy about,” Keuchel said. “Ultimately we’re not to where we want to be, but we’re getting there and that’s what everybody is happy about.”