José Cruz Jr. named to Hinch’s coaching staff

Detroit Tigers

José Cruz Jr. was filled with pride when the Tigers drafted his youngest son, Trei, in June. Turns out they’ll be heading to Spring Training together.
Six months after Trei Cruz joined the Tigers’ organization, so has his dad. The team announced Tuesday that José Cruz Jr., a 12-year veteran

José Cruz Jr. was filled with pride when the Tigers drafted his youngest son, Trei, in June. Turns out they’ll be heading to Spring Training together.

Six months after Trei Cruz joined the Tigers’ organization, so has his dad. The team announced Tuesday that José Cruz Jr., a 12-year veteran as a Major League outfielder, will be part of new manager A.J. Hinch’s coaching staff.

Cruz will round out the staff with the nebulous title of Major League coach. He’ll primarily serve as an assistant hitting coach under Scott Coolbaugh, but Cruz told MLB.com Tuesday evening that he’ll also assist in other facets of the game.

“I’ll bring in different things defensively and with baserunning that will come in handy,” the former Gold Glove winner said. “But whatever is needed, that’s what I’ll do.”

The hire comes about a month after the rest of Hinch’s staff had been announced. Hinch said in mid-November that they had an opportunity to look in different directions for the final coaching spot to complement Coolbaugh’s experience. The one consistent goal was to find someone who could make an impact.

Cruz hasn’t been a coach in the pros, but he has worked with young players for years, both on the field as well as in his role with the Major League Baseball Players Association in the player services department.

“We identified José as someone who would be a great fit for A.J. and his coaching staff and to work with our players at the Major League level,” general manager Al Avila said in a statement. “José comes from a well-respected, three-generation baseball family, and over the years I’ve watched him as a player and know him to be a leader both on the field and in the clubhouse. His background and knowledge of the game will be an asset to our ballclub.”

The Cruz family has been involved in baseball for decades. José Sr. was a two-time All-Star during a 19-year Major League career. José Jr. was the third overall pick in the 1995 Draft and made his big league debut with Seattle against the Tigers in 1997. He had a two-homer game at Tiger Stadium that summer on his way to 204 career home runs.

Cruz and Hinch were never teammates as players, but Cruz said they know each other well from their years in the league.

When they talked about the job, Hinch’s vision sold him.

“Knowing A.J. and how he thinks, and him thinking that I would be a really good fit, was really exciting to even consider,” Cruz said. “I’ve known [new bench coach] George Lombard for a long time. We used to train together in Miami when we were players. I’ve known [assistant pitching coach] Juan Nieves for a long time.”

Hinch praised Cruz’s background and skill set in a statement announcing the hire.

“He was widely respected as a player both on and off the field,” Hinch said, “and spending his entire life around the game has built a great ability to connect with both young and veteran players.”

The timing was right; Trei’s pro career meant José Jr. and his wife are now empty-nesters. But before José seriously considered the job, he asked Trei if he’d be comfortable with it. They’ve talked plenty over the years about the pressure that comes with being part of a famous baseball family, especially after Trei followed in his dad’s footsteps and played college ball at Rice. Having his dad in the same big league organization is another matter.

Trei told him he’d be crazy not to go ahead with it. The more José listened to Hinch, the more the job appealed to him.

“He said a lot of things that I was really interested in, as far as being on staff, being able to help guys, be relatable and start from the beginning with this group. And it all sounded great to be a part of,” Cruz said. “It was just something I couldn’t pass up.

“It was not an easy decision. I did enjoy my job doing what I was doing, and now I’ll still be helping guys. It’ll just be different.”

Once he arrives in Lakeland, Fla., this spring, he’ll see many more familiar young faces. Cruz was a teammate of Mike Cameron, whose son Daz made his big league debut in Detroit’s outfield this past season and is the Tigers’ No. 7 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Cruz was also a teammate of Roger Clemens, whose son Kody is a second baseman and ranked No. 18 on the Tigers prospects list. Trei Cruz, an infielder, is ranked 26th.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

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