Coaching Staff Taking Shape

added 10/26/2014 by Greg Thurston

Nearly a month has passed since the Astros tabbed A.J. Hinch as the team's new manager. Since that time, Hinch and Jeff Luhnow have been working to assemble the rest of the coaching staff. The best news has to be the fact that Pitching Coach Brent Strom will return for a second season. In his first year with the Astros, Strom helped transform Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh into dependable starters. Both pitchers entered the season with career ERAs above five - and each finished the year with an ERA below three.

Other coaches on the staff failed to produce results similar to Strom. Hitting Coach John Mallee was able to get big seasons out of Jose Altuve and Chris Carter. In addition, the Astros surprisingly finished third in the American League in home runs. Yet some of the team's overall offensive numbers were far from impressive. Houston had the lowest offensive WAR in the league (according to fangraphs). The club also led the league in strikeouts, thanks in part to the league's lowest contact rate. But Mallee was able to get out of town before the axe dropped, signing on as the hitting coach for his hometown Chicago Cubs.

Despite the league's highest bullpen ERA, Bullpen Coach Craig Bjornson returns for a second season. Third Base Coach Pat Listach and First Base Coach Tarrik Brock weren't so lucky. Both men were sent packing.

Interim Manager Tom Lawless and his Bench Coach, Adam Everett, will be staying with the organization, although their roles have yet to be decided. Assistant Hitting Coach Ralph Dickenson could also be sticking around - perhaps in the same capacity.

As for the rest of the newcomers, Luhnow appears to be building the staff in his own image. Like his boss, Hinch started out in player development before working his way up to "acting General Manager" with the Padres last summer. Bench Coach Trey Hillman began his career as a scout and was Farm Director for the Texas Rangers in 2002. Hitting Coach Dave Hudgens once served as Assistant Director of Player Development in the Oakland Athletics' organization.

Hudgens may be the coach under the most pressure in 2015. Having worked closely with Billy Beane, the 57-year-old hitting instructor is big on plate discipline. His teachings, which put the emphasis on attacking pitches that are in the strike zone and laying off bad pitches, helped the Mets increase their on-base percentage from .314 to .335 in his first season in New York. But that success was short-lived, as the Mets dropped well below the league average the next two seasons. The author of the 6-DVD set "Hitting for Excellence", was ultimately fired by the Mets in the middle of last season.

Hudgens also has managerial experience. Dave has managed in the Venezuelan Winter League as well as several seasons in the minors. Hillman managed the Nippon Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League before landing the skipper's job in Kansas City prior to the 2008 season. New First Base Coach Rich Dauer spent the last two seasons managing the Texas Leagues' San Antonio Missions. All three men have managed a team to a league championship.

Third Base Coach Gary Pettis is the only newbie without managerial experience. Pettis, who spent the last eight years working under Ron Washington in Arlington, earned five Gold Gloves as an outfielder and swiped 354 bases in his 11-year big league career. I have a feeling that Nolan Ryan had something to do with bringing Pettis to Houston - and I like it. Although his pedigree reads differently from the other new hires, I think Pettis' skill set and experience will prove to be extremely beneficial to this team.

The Astros have also announced that Tony DeFrancesco, the manager last year at AAA Oklahoma City, will follow the team to Fresno as the new skipper of the Fresno Grizzlies. He was the interim manager for the Astros after Brad Mills was fired in 2012, going 16-25 during the club's final 41 games. This will be his fifth season with the Houston organization after seven seasons running Oakland's AAA affiliate.

Expect more personnel moves to begin once the World Series comes to an end teams must begin tendering offers to their free agents. The Astros will have three - all relievers - Matt Albers, Jesse Crain and Jose Veras.