Chris McCosky | The Detroit News
Lakeland, Fla. — Very soon the focus is going to shift from the manager to the players, from concepts and theories to game action, performance, success and failure.
But Monday was AJ Hinch’s day. It was about the Tigers’ first-year manager setting his agenda, laying out his expectations and setting a tone before the first day official day of spring training.
But honestly, all the new skipper really wanted to do was get out on the field.
“I’m baseball 24-7,” he said. “I want to get to the baseball more than I want to get to any motivational speeches or put on some sort of a show. That’s not what we’re here for …This isn’t a movie. This is a major-league clubhouse.
“Obviously I want to tell them how excited I am to be the manager of the Detroit Tigers, to be their manager, and to set a tone for my expectations in this camp. There are messages to deliver. But it’s not a movie. It’s about them knowing my priorities as a manager.”
Truth is, he’d already met with most of the players before Monday, especially the core veteran group. It wasn’t like he had to get in front of the team and introduce himself.
“AJ is the best communicator I’ve been around in the game,” said left fielder Robbie Grossman, who played for Hinch in Houston in 2015. “He can communicate with guys. He can relate to guys and he knows how to talk to people and get the best out of them.
“You’re going to see that unfold here this year.”
The message? The same one he delivered in his introduction press conference back in late October:
“Win the day,” Grossman repeated. “I think that gets lost a lot in everyday life. Just win every moment and every second that you can and continue to grow as a player and as a person.”
In the spirit of getting to know your manager, then, here is some insight — in Hinch’s own words — on how the Tigers will operate in this new regime.
► On clubhouse personality: “I want you to be you, under the umbrella of what we’re trying to accomplish as a team. Some guys are louder, some more forward and some are behind-the-scenes doing their work quietly and methodically. The clubhouse will develop its own chemistry amongst the boys. They will handle all that stuff in the clubhouse.”
► On melding different and difficult personalities: “You don’t get to this level without some confidence, some opinions and some drive. Just let everybody spread their wings and be themselves. We have a lot of different personalities from a lot of different backgrounds. There’s no cookie-cutter approach. Those who are unwilling to change or adapt, they are more of a challenge to coach. But we will make the adjustments along the way.”
► On managing conflict: “Everybody has to do their part. There’s going to be conflict. There’s people vying for the same position. We all wear the D on our jersey, we all work for the Tigers. But we can go out and compete against each other — that’s the first conflict.
“The second conflict comes in the season. You can’t be around each other for that long and not piss each other off a time or two. But good teams manage that, good teams control that and it never gets out of hand. I like teams with an edge. I like teams with swagger and confidence. You can be you on any team I manage as long as you are prepared to play to win.”
► On developing players at the big-league level: One of the Tigers’ toughest decisions at the end of camp will be whether it’s best for young players like catcher Jake Rogers and pitchers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal to further their development at Triple-A or in the major leagues.
“If we could figure that out perfectly we’d be really good in the game, as far as when to press the Go button on our young guys. There was always a criteria for advancement that your players had to accomplish to get to the next level and that has sped up over the recent years. These guys are flying through the minor leagues now.
“The criteria for advancement has been eased to where the better players are going to make adjustments at the major-league level. It’s not perfect. For the guys who can emotionally handle the struggles at the major-league level, I’m all for pushing them pretty fast and getting them up to the big leagues. But not everybody can handle that. Not everybody can stay under control as they advance against better and better competition.
“We will individualize it. It’s not one-size-fits-all. If you can emotionally handle the challenges and physically make the adjustments along the way, developing at in the big leagues can happen.”
► Improving two-strike efficiency: The Tigers last season were near the bottom of baseball with a .165/.223/.248 slash-line with two strikes. They struck out 567 times in 1,175 plate appearances in two-strike counts.
“You’re going to start seeing a change over the next three, four, five years, where we have to start valuing guys who put the ball in play a little more, who have the ability to control the strike zone, know the strike zone and swing at strikes. Obviously, we’re not going to just accept the strikeout. It’s handling the bat but still do damage.”
Hinch used Jonathan Schoop as an example. Schoop over his career has produced 40 home runs and 115 RBIs after he’s gotten two strikes in the count.
“Some people think contact with two strikes means touch the ball. That’s not necessarily the case. You have to have a bigger strike zone with two strikes, in terms of what you are hunting. But contact is your friend. The two-strike approach has faded in the game over the last decade. It needs to be revived.”
► On batting order competition: “I want our best hitters to get the most at-bats they can. It’s as simple as that. When you can score the most runs is when you can get your best hitters the most at-bats. I believe in the table-setting component, the on-base percentage, for a lead-off hitter. But that guy is getting the most at-bats on your team. You want guys who impact run scoring to get the most at-bats.”