Random spring notes: Paulino, Wright and Ensberg. Yes, that Ensberg.

Somewhere along the way, we sort of lost track of Wesley Wright, who has been quietly going about his spring business out of the spotlight. That might be simply because reporters haven’t gotten around to writing about him yet — after all, there are about 45 days of spring features to write and still just under a month until Opening Day.

But Sunday morning before batting practice, manager Brad Mills talked a little about Wright. So let’s talk a little bit about him here, now.

Wright spent the last two seasons as a left-handed specialist but might be tested as a starter this spring. Mills said Wright will likely start a game coming up, possibly on one of the split-squad days that requires two starting pitchers instead of one. The Astros have split-squads scheduled for March 13, 16 and 21, so don’t be surprised to see Wright start one of those games.

“I’ll hold off making a lot of comments until we see how it goes,” Mills said. “But he’s definitely going to get his innings.”

At this point, I’m not considering Wright as a true contender for one of the five rotation spots coming out of Spring Training, but the Astros are definitely keeping their minds open while trying to figure out where Wright is best suited.

When the team got him from the Rule 5 draft a couple of years ago, I received many questions as to whether Wright could eventually be converted to a starter. I was told he was staying in the ‘pen because that’s where the club had the biggest need. But now, I think we can all agree the starting depth is thin, and there’s nothing wrong with at least considering Wright to fill the club’s needs there too. Wright had a nice showing as a starter during Winter Ball, so there’s probably no harm in testing him out this month.

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Meanwhile, Felipe Paulino, a sure-fire candidate for the starting rotation, will be getting his innings this spring, but not necessarily at the beginning of games. One standard practice during Spring training is for teams to “piggyback” two starting pitchers in the same game. You’ll see this quite often, because most teams have more than five candidates trying to make their rotation. Piggybacking allows for everyone to still pitch on regular rest.

Paulino and Wandy Rodriguez will both pitch Wednesday, and each is slated to go three innings. Rodriguez will go first, followed by Paulino, and a handful of relievers will absorb the final three innings.

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As a reporter, there were times that I enjoyed covering Morgan Ensberg and times that he made me want to pull my hair out.

Don’t get me wrong — Ensberg was everything a reporter would want in a player: talkative, intelligent, insightful, reflective. But there was one topic that would make Morgan clam up, and at times, it was simply infuriating.

I tried my best to write about things the fans wanted to know about, and from 2006 through ’07, fans wanted to know about Ensberg’s ever-changing batting stance. It was becoming increasingly obvious to just about the entire viewing public that the third baseman was struggling with looking, and feeling, comfortable at the plate.

So I asked. And asked. And asked again. Either he changed the subject, talked around it or was so vague that by the end of the conversation, I was more confused than when I first approached him. After a while, I gave up. It didn’t take a genius (thankfully) to figure out the guy simply didn’t want to talk about it.

But now, as a retired player, Ensberg is no longer avoiding the topic. He has started a blog — morganensberg.wordpress.com — and he’s touching on many interesting topics, many of which he didn’t want to discuss during his playing career. The blog is titled “Morgan Ensberg’s Baseball IQ,” which he hopes gives “solid fundamentally based strategy and teaching” insight into the game. “Each week I will teach you something about the game,” Ensberg writes. “Either at the professional or amateur level.”

I’m already fascinated by his insight. In explaining why communication is the key to success in baseball, he first quotes former Houston bench coach Jackie Moore: “Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves.” Ensberg then goes on to say this:

“Trust me on this one. I changed my batting stance more times than I can remember and it was because I didn’t know what I was doing.

“In order to be great you have to be willing to fail. If you are afraid to fail then you won’t learn and you will have regrets.  The military says that if you don’t know what to do then take action.

“I didn’t take action. I was afraid to fail. I learned though and will be better next time.”

Ensberg has been retired from the game for about a year and he’s hoping to begin a career in broadcasting. When he was with the Astros, I always felt he would be successful with whatever he decided to do in his post-playing career, whether it was politics or coaching or broadcasting. As much as I liked him as a player, I had 100 times more respect for him as a person. That’s why I was delighted to see he started a blog.

In his most recent entry, he talks about how it ripped his heart in half to be booed by the Houston fans: “As a result, I no longer concentrated on the game and instead concentrated on not getting booed.”

Check it out. Interesting stuff.

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From batting practice at Disney Sunday:

Puma and Pence chat with MLB Network’s Peter Gammons.

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Pence works in the cage.

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First base coach Bobby Meacham and third baseman Pedro Feliz.

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Hanging in the dugout before BP…Berkman, Michaels.

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7 Comments

I really like Wesley Wright – he looks like a kid and seems so unperturbed even when brought into trouble situations. But if he did crack our starting rotation, the Astros will surely have the SHORTEST rotation in the majors!

What’s Jose Cruz doing this spring? I heard he’d be helping out in uniform, but of course, not coaching first. It will be weird to see anyone else in that spot!

I have been following MLB all of my life, and there is a couple of things that I don’t understand? One, about Spring Training, when a player is released does that mean, they get a automatic ticket to the Minors? Or they just sent home packing? And how does the coaches, GM’s and such make a decision to send a player to the Rookie or Class A, AA or AAA? And what’s the differance between a 25 man roster and a 40 man roster? And I know that Bagwell is with the Astros, but in what position?

The 25-man roster is the team for the season. The 40-man roster is that same 25 players, plus 15 extras who are either on the minor league team or on the DL. In order for one of those 15 to play, someone on the 25-man has to either be put on the DL or sent down.

pctexas….there are a few different scenarios that can occur when a player is sent out from major league camp during spring training. Players under club control who haven’t reached their arb years yet are simply optioned to the Minor Leagues. If a player is sent down but is out of options (which means they have more than 3 yrs of service time), they first have to clear waivers before they can be reassigned to the minor leagues. Players not on a 40-man, the non-roster invites, are also “reassigned” to Minor League camp.

There are instances where players are just flat-out released, with no assignment to the Minor Leagues. This is rare but it does happen. There have also been instances where a veteran guy who was an NRI is reassigned to the minors and he instead opts to retire. Turk Wendell comes to mind from a few years ago.

Some players who come to camp as NRIs have a clause in their contract that says if they don’t make the Opening Day roster, they can request their release, which would allow for them to sign with another team. Russ Ortiz had such a clause in his contract last year.

To answer the other personnel questions…Cruz is in camp as a spring training coach and will be with the team during BP at home games this season. He’ll also work with the community relations staff and will be with Wade and his group in the GM suite during home games.

Bagwell is a special asst. to the GM and spends time with the minor leaguers.

Alyson……thanks for the info on Morgan Ensberg! There have been a LOT of us who have contacted him already!
I hope he can find his way back to the world of baseball
now that his playing days are over. It would be nice to see him in the “booth” as a commentator with Fox or ESPN.

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