The Houston Astros made a splash from within by promoting former bench coach Joe Espada as the newest Astros manager. Espada had been the bench coach dating back to 2018, when AJ Hinch was at the helm. He was hired in this role following Alex Cora's departure to manage the Boston Red Sox. Espada also endured the major turnover of the Houston Astros in 2020 following the sign-stealing scandal.
General Manager Dana Brown's managerial selection was highly praised by players, fans and media alike, and for good reason. Espada has nearly been through it all in the Astros dynasty, with 3 pennants, six straight trips to the ALCS, and a World Series ring. Recently, he's known for his miraculous decision-making as the acting manager following Dusty Bakers ejection in Game 5 of the 2023 ALCS. It was definitely one of the many reasons that factored in Brown's decision to promote him.
"I'm humbled by this. This is a dream come true."- Joe Espada, upon hearing his promotion
But before his bench coaching experience, Espada had to start somewhere. For baseball fans unfamiliar with Espada's credentials, let's take a deep dive on how Espada got here.
An Unfortunate Playing Career
Originally from Puerto Rico, Joe Espada started his baseball career like any other prospect would, at a university. Attending the University of Mobile, where he played for the Mobile Rams, Espada gained momentum and draft buzz by setting an impressive record with a .442 batting average during 1994-1996. To this day, this University of Mobile record hasn't been beaten. His college coach, Mike Jacobs, praised Espada for his deep understanding of the game and his ideal approach as a player, qualities that later transitioned into his coaching.
One thing to note is that prior to his coaching career in 2005, Espada has never made an official at-bat in the big leagues. He spent his pro-career in the minor leagues with multiple organizations, reaching as high as Triple-A before retiring. This often puts a damper on a player initially eager in performing at the highest level.
Coaching Is His Strength
But Espada didn't give up. Recognizing his strengths off the field as mentioned by his college coach, he continued to work in the minors in the coaching department. Shortly after his retirement, the then Florida Marlins picked him up and hired him as a hitting coach for their Class A affiliate team Greensboro Grasshoppers. Ironically, Orioles Manager Brandon Hyde, who just won Manager of the Year, was manager of this team at the time. This connection led to their families meeting, and ultimately Espada married Lisa, the sister of Hyde's wife, making them brothers-in-law.
Coaching was another way for him to move up in the minor leagues, as Espada eventually stepped on a major league ballpark in 2010 as the Marlins third base coach for the next four seasons. Throughout his time in Miami, Espada gained experience working under esteemed baseball managers in Ozzie Guillen, Jack McKeon, and Fredi Gonzalez.
Working For A Historical Team
His experience in Miami provided him more opportunities in baseball, such as work in the front office as a special assistant to General Manager Brian Cashman and third base coach of the New York Yankees in 2015. Working under Cashman and manager Joe Girardi, Espada's management training and knowledge of analytics was heavily put to the test.
The Yankees were going through a transitional phase. Longtime favorites Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Alex Rodriguez neared the end of their careers, and the team wasn't as formidable over the past three seasons. Potential stars in Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez looked to take over as the faces of the Bronx.
Espada's last season with the Yankees was a memorable one, as they reached the American League Championship series for the first time since 2012. With Rookie of the Year and runner up MVP in Judge, New York took our Houston Astros to a Game 7, but fell short of a World Series appearance. In an interesting turn of events, Espada later joined the Astros, the very team that had thwarted his former team's World Series aspirations.
Espada's Choice To Stay In The H
During his five-year tenure as bench coach, he'd received several managing opportunities to interview with the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox, New York Mets, and his former franchise, the Miami Marlins. The Puerto Rican was bound to take a managerial role someday, and thankfully it's with Houston. His main duty is to continue cementing the Astros dynasty for the long haul. At the ripe age of 49 and working under esteemed MLB managers, choosing him is a no-brainer.
"“Joe has special character. He’s a family man, he’s got great leadership skills. He’s a pretty good communicator.”"- Dana Brown, Astros General Manager