Prospect Retrospective: Morgan Ensberg
Morgan Ensberg was drafted by the Houston Astros in the ninth round in 1998, out of USC. He was a successful player in college, but his tools did not excite scouts, so he wasn't considered a premium draft. He hit just .230 with a .367 SLG in 59 games for short-season Auburn after signing. He did draw 46 walks, giving him a sound .380 OBP despite the low batting average. A retrospective grade would be Grade C.
In '99, Ensberg moved up to Kissimmee in the Florida State League. He hit just .239, but contributed 25 doubles, 15 homers, and 68 walks, giving him a .349 OBP. I gave him a Grade C for the 2000 book, noting the low batting average but being optimistic about his power and plate discipline. Most sources considered him an organization player (roster-filler) at this point.
Moving up to Double-A in '00, Ensberg broke through in the friendly environs of the Texas League, hitting .300 with 28 homers, 34 doubles, 92 walks, a .416 OBP, and a .545 SLG. He also improved his defense at third base (leading the league in fielding percentage), then went 2-for-7 in a 4-game trial with the Astros at the end of the year. I gave him a Grade B based on this progress, rated as the number five prospect in the Houston system. Baseball America was still skeptical, ranking him just 15th overall in the Astros organization.
Injury problems (a broken hamate) limited Ensberg to just 87 games in Triple-A in 2001, although he played brilliantly in those 87 games (.310, .400 OBP, .592 SLG, 23 homers). I gave him a Grade B+ in the 2002 book, expecting him to firmly grasp the third base job in '02. It didn't really happen; he scuffled in 49 games in the majors, hitting .242 with disappointing power. But he did enough to stay in Houston's plans, and came back in 2003 with a sound .291/.377/.530 campaign at age 27. He didn't play as well in 2004, but is off to a good start in '05.
Ensberg is an example of a polished college player, a skill guy, as opposed to a tools guy. He has two basic strong tools: power and arm strength, but he never had the athleticism to excite scouts. His low-level minor league performance was OK, notable for a high walk rate but a low batting average. He improved as he moved up, always a good sign. Ensberg didn't become a regular until age 27, and is probably as good now as he will ever get. Some similar players get trapped in the minors for their entire careers, but Ensberg has made the most of his chances.