CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Second-year manager Joe Thon takes over the reigns as Corpus Christi Hooks field chief in 2023, the defending World Series Champion Houston Astros announced on Thursday. Thon will replace Gregorio Petit, who left to manage the Oakland A’s Single-A affiliate.
Joining Thon, 31, at the Astros Class AA post is pitching coach John Kovalik, hitting coach Bobby Bell, development coach Vincent Blue, athletic trainer Takeaki Ando and strength coach Matt Jones.
Thon, Kovalik, Blue, and Jones all served in the same capacity at Class A Fayetteville (N.C.) last year. Ando is the lone returner to Corpus Christi, with Bell recently joining the organization. Thon finished his tenure as the Single-A skipper for the Fayetteville Woodpeckers with a 55-77 record.
The ninth manager in 18 seasons of Hooks Baseball, Thon was also Fayetteville’s development coach in 2021. His tenure with the Astros includes a 2019 business internship.
The former infielder was drafted by the Blue Jays in the fifth round in 2010 out of Academia Perpetuo Socorro in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thon played in parts of seven minor league seasons, with all but one coming in the Toronto system. The final year of his playing career was 2017 when he advanced to Double-A Springfield in the St. Louis organization. Thon closed the campaign with Sugar Land of the independent Atlantic League.
A six-year veteran of the Roberto Clemente Puerto Rican Winter League, Thon became a coach in 2019, working as both a student and volunteer assistant for the University of Houston Baseball program. He was born in Houston and is the son of former Astros shortstop Dickie Thon, who played in 15 Major League seasons with Houston, the Phillies, Angels, Rangers, Padres and Brewers. Dickie Thon was a National League All-Star, won the silver slugger award and finished seventh in MVP voting in 1983 as part of a seven-season run with the Astros.
I’m very excited about the upcoming season,” Joe Thon said by phone from West Palm Beach, Fla. “Our staff and I understand this is a big responsibility to get the guys ready to contribute at the big-league level. We’ve known a lot of these players as rookies and it’s nice to see how they have matured and developed. It will be a bit surreal to be back in the Texas League. It’s been since 2017 but Whataburger Field was a fun place to play then, and I know we’ll have some fun this year.”
“The Hooks are delighted to welcome the energy and leadership that this staff will bring to Corpus Christi as they develop future Astros,” Hooks General Manager Brady Ballard said. “I’ve gotten to speak with Joe a little bit over the last few weeks and it’s apparent he is raring to go. We can’t wait for Hooks Baseball at Whataburger Field.”
Hooks Opening Night [milb.com] is Thursday, April 6 at 7:05 as the Arkansas Travelers (Seattle Mariners) visit for a three-game series. Two days prior, CC plays host to Texas A&M-Kingsville [milb.com] in a 6:35 PM friendly.
Astros minor league mini camp is underway in West Palm Beach. Pitchers and catchers report Sunday with the first full squad workout planned for March 11.
Corpus Christi currently has 40 alums at Astros Major League Spring Training, including 17 non-roster invitees.
2023 marks Kovalik’s fourth season with Houston. Prior to tutoring Fayetteville pitchers last year, he coached Astros rookie-ballers in 2019 and 2021 at Tri-City (N.Y) and the Florida Complex League, respectively.
A native of Aurora, Ohio, Kovalik was pitching coach at his alma mater – Division II Slippery Rock University (Pa.) – from 2016 to 2018. In 2014, he went 5-2 with a 1.43 ERA and five saves in 22 relief outings as a senior for The Rock. The now 31-year-old pitched in the independent ranks from 2014 to 2017, toiling in the Frontier League, American Association, United Shore League and Pacific Association.
Entering his first year with the Houston, Bell has spent over 20 years in professional baseball. In addition to coaching in the Anaheim Angels, Miami Marlins and Milwaukee Brewers organizations, he has worked in independent ball while leading hitting clinics across the country.
Bell, 59, signed as a minor league free agent with the California Angels out of Mesa State College, now Colorado Mesa University. The Lafayette, Ind. native played in parts of three pro seasons while seeing action at catcher (72 GM) and third base (26 GM).
Blue, a product of Lamar High School in Houston, enters his second season as a member of the Astros player development staff. Selected in the 10th round of the 2001 draft, he played outfield for parts of seven seasons in the Tigers system. A .261 career hitter, Blue advanced to Triple-A Toledo (Ohio) in 2007 before embarking upon a five-year journey in independent ball. The 40-year-old founded both the BE Elite Baseball Academy and the Universal Baseball Players Association before becoming an Astro.
Ando, back with Corpus Christi for a second consecutive season, was originally employed by the Astros as a Gulf Coast League athletic trainer in 2020. The 31-year-old was stationed in Fayetteville in 2021. A native of Tokyo, Ando earned his bachelor’s in sports science at Waseda University in Saitama, Japan. He also boasts master’s degrees from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (athletic training) and New Mexico State (art education).
In addition to gaining experience as a graduate assistant, Ando completed internships with the Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres, and Green Bay Packers. He has also worked in a seasonal capacity at the University of Louisville and Stanford University, covering football, track and field, cross country, and rowing. Ando married Christina Shepherd in San Antonio last month. The couple spent their offseason in Corpus Christi.
Jones is preparing for his third season as an Astros minor league strength coach, working in the Florida Complex League before his Fayetteville stop last year. Hailing from Costa Mesa, Calif., he boasts collegiate coaching experience with Missouri State (Springfield, Mo.), TCU and UC-Irvine. With the Anteaters, Jones worked with former Hooks infielder and current UCI head coach Ben Orloff.
Jones has two degrees in Kinesiology and Exercise Science, earning a bachelor’s from Cal-Poly and master’s from Concordia University in Irvine.