DETROIT — Just under six months after manager A.J. Hinch named his first Tigers coaching staff, he’ll be looking for a replacement. Jose Cruz Jr., who had been working as an assistant hitting coach among other roles, was announced Wednesday night as the new head coach at Rice University, his alma mater.
Cruz entered coaching last fall at Hinch’s encouragement after working with the MLB Players Association. While he had filled a variety of roles on staff, he had been particularly helpful for Tigers hitters working with primary hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh.
The 47-year-old Cruz was a standout at Rice from 1993-95 before the Mariners selected him with the third overall pick in the 1995 MLB Draft. His son, Trei, also attended Rice before the Tigers drafted him in the third round last summer. He’s currently playing at High-A West Michigan and ranks 15th on MLB Pipeline’s Tigers prospect list.
Hinch confirmed Wednesday afternoon before the announcement that he had discussed Cruz with Rice athletic director Joe Karlgaard, a fellow Stanford alumnus.
“He’s a huge alum there. He’s uber-talented to do a lot of different things,” Hinch said of Cruz, “and it’s not a surprise to me that people came calling about him.”
The hire puts the Tigers in a tricky situation for a replacement. Detroit hasn’t replaced a coach in-season since pitching Chris Bosio was dismissed midway through the 2018 season. In that case, the Tigers promoted Rick Anderson from bullpen coach and promoted Triple-A Toledo pitching coach Jeff Pico to bullpen coach.
The Tigers generally have tried to promote coaches from within their system, a philosophy that goes back to former manager Jim Leyland rewarding coaches who work their way through the Minor Leagues. Former Tigers player Mike Hessman is in his third year as Toledo’s hitting coach, including working at the alternate training site in Toledo last year, and is extremely popular. He’s also a Toledo legend, having set the Minor League career home-run record as a player with the Mud Hens.