Style aside, Ensberg, 26, is part of a radical move by Houston, which in the final week of camp awarded its shortstop job to Adam Everett, 25, which means that rookies will be rubbing shoulders on the left side of the Astros' infield. That's a gamble for a club that expects to contend for the National League Central title. The last team to make the postseason with two full-time rookie in-fielders? Try the 1947 Dodgers, who had Jackie Robinson at first and Spider Jorgensen at third.
"It's our X factor," says Houston general manager Gerry Hun-sicker, who's also counting on a rotation that includes three starters 25 or younger. "We're trying to beat the odds."
At least Ensberg and Everett have as much minor league experience as a top-level rookie is likely to get these days. Everett, acquired from the Red Sox for Carl Everett (no relation) in 1999, started for the Triple A New Orleans Zephyrs for the past two seasons and cemented his reputation as a stellar defensive player. Ensberg, the Astros' ninth-round draft pick in '98, spent a full season at each level of Houston's system; at New Orleans last year he hit .310 and had 23 homers despite having missed seven weeks with a broken bone in his left hand.
"We've been watching them for a while," says Hunsicker. "We felt the time is now to find out what they can do." To that end Hunsicker dealt Ensberg's main competition at third, incumbent Chris Truby, to the Expos on March 12 even though Ensberg started the spring 1 for 15. (He finished with a .253 average, four homers and 15 RBIs.) Everett beat out last year's regular shortstop, Julio Lugo, thanks to a flashy glove and improvement at the plate. A career .256 hitter in the minors, he batted .308 this spring and struck out just five times in 58 plate appearances.
Not that the power-laden Astros need a ton of offense from Everett. "All I want him worrying about is making plays," says veteran second baseman Craig Biggio. "I told him I'd take care of everything else."
Bad Pad for Vlad
April 8, 10-11, Expos at Marlins Until two months ago Florida manager Jeff Torborg was the skipper in Montreal, so if anyone should know how to pitch to Expos batters, he should. However, he would be well advised to follow the Marlins' old book on Montreal slugger Vladimir Guerrero. Guerrero's 18 career strikeouts (in 105 at bats) at Pro Player Stadium are his second most at any road ballpark (he has whiffed 24 times at Atlanta's Turner Field), and his .306 on-base percentage there is his lowest at any current park where he has had at least 50 at bats.