HOUSTON -- Morgan Ensberg was one of the more analytical minds in the game when he was playing for the Astros from 2000-07. Of course, that was long before analytics as we know them now were as big a part of the game, so you could say Ensberg was ahead
HOUSTON -- Morgan Ensberg was one of the more analytical minds in the game when he was playing for the Astros from 2000-07. Of course, that was long before analytics as we know them now were as big a part of the game, so you could say Ensberg was ahead of his time.
He learned to be a thinker in the game from his grandfather, who helped him notice tendencies while he was in junior high. From there, it was USC coach Mike Gillespie who helped Ensberg take his analytical baseball mind to another level in college.
Perhaps that's what makes the retired former team Most Valuable Player the perfect person to become the Astros' first Minor League mindset coach. It was a position created this offseason, and it puts Ensberg in the role of traveling around the system to make sure everyone is on the same page from a philosophical standpoint.
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"It's difficult to describe in terms of labeling it," Ensberg said. "It's difficult to define what I do. I've always been a guy that has had empathy for the players and managers, and I realize that obviously so much data-driven information is being used, and so we're putting players in situations that they don't feel comfortable. Baseball is so hard, and to ask a player to do something that's even more difficult than what they're used to adds even another level of anxiety. I'm there to kind of mentor them and be there for them as they go through these scary times."
Ensberg, 40, played seven of his eight big league seasons with the Astros, who drafted him out of USC. In 2005, the year the Astros won the National League pennant, Ensberg hit .283 with 36 homers and 101 RBIs and was named team MVP. He got off to a torrid start in '06, but was soon struggling at the plate and was out of baseball shortly after.
He spent the last two seasons as a Minor League special assignment coach after beginning his coaching career as the infield coach at Class A Lancaster in 2013.
With analytics and defensive shifts such a huge part of baseball, and the Astros especially, Ensberg's job will be to make sure the players understand why the organization is asking them to do what they're being asked to do. Some players might be dealing with the infield shift for the first time, and Ensberg will calm their fears about playing out of position, as well as generally help them deal with success and struggles.
"We have to understand, we're asking players to do something that they've never done before at a level they've never played at before with players that are way better across the board than they've faced before," he said. "It's just hard. And so, players want to go back to what's comfortable, but I guess I'm there to help kind of guide them to continue on a certain path that's going to help them be successful at the Major League level and that they shouldn't worry about short-term success, that we're preparing them to be great players in the big leagues. Not average players. "
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Ensberg says it's all about supporting the players and doing everything the organization can from an analytical side to figure out the best way to teach them the game. But, he warns, he's not a psychologist.
"It's something the players, coaches and managers can trust that will stick with them when things go bad," he said.
And Ensberg admits he could have used a mindset coach when he played. It was sink or swim.
"I always ended up being that guy for other guys, and it's really because I care," he said. "I don't like that players feel anxiety. It's scary, and I try not to talk about it too much, but it's a very scary deal. People don't want to hear it. They want to say, 'Look, you're making billions of dollars.' And it's true. We're very fortunate when it comes to money, but make no mistake about it -- those guys out there are scared to death. They're staring at the ceiling, and I want to help them at least get through parts of that."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.