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As The Astros Value Versatility, David Hensley Thrives

David Hensley | Credit: Ken Valliere

There has been a trend in the Astros system with the value of versatility growing. We saw it with Myles Straw adding a new position a couple years ago and more recently with Pedro Leon and Tyler Whitaker. One prospect who has played all over the field in the Astros system in infielder David Hensley.

Hensley was born and raised in San Diego and ended up playing his college baseball at San Diego State University. I asked him if he grew up a Padres fan and he said “of course”. He mentioned Tony Gwynn as his favorite player and said that Gwynn actually recruited him to play at SDSU.

Hensley had a solid career at SDSU with his best season coming as a junior where he hit .357 with a .895 OPS. I asked Hensley about the draft and he said “My junior year was my best year in college and I didn’t get sniffed. That pissed me off a little bit.” He went back to college for his senior year and was ultimately drafted in the 26th round.

I asked Hensley if he feels like he defied the odds just getting to Triple-A as a 26th round pick and he said “Of course, man. I carry that chip on my shoulder all the time.” He also added “I came back (to school) and got the chance my senior year and haven’t looked back since. I’ve been trying to keep that chip on my shoulder and that underdog mentality is something that keeps me going everyday.”

2021 was his best season as a professional. He played the full season in Double-A and hit .293 with a .808 oPS. He finished the season on fire and I asked him if he got comfortable or what contributed to the finish. “Started out really well, started out the best I ever had. So that gave me confidence knowing that what I was doing was working, I can trust it,” Hensley said. “I think a little bit of fatigue playing so many games coming off the COVID year, made me go down a little bit. But that second wind kicked in and looking at myself in the mirror saying, it was working what I was doing, so I didn’t have to rely on trying more I just had to trust what I was doing and it kind of clicked over for me and started competing with confidence.”

After a great season, it would be easy to just relax in the off-season and wait for 2022. That’s not what Hensley did though. He played winter ball in Puerto Rico (hit .345 in 16 games) and said it was a cool experience to see baseball outside of the United States. I asked him what he worked on and he said “I think the one thing I was really focused on was elevating the ball to left field. Coming through college I was very opposite field oriented, very inside to out. So it took me a while going 4 years in college banging balls to the right side to actually learn how to get my swing all the way through and actually using the left side of the field.”

Hensley has already connected on one homer to left, a 431 foot shot in Sacramento a few games ago. “Yea, its unlocked a lot of power for myself using my leverage and its defined me as a ball player I think,” Hensley said. “Now I’m not just considered an average hitter, I’m considered a better hitter because I’ve been able to use all sides of the field with power. Obviously, I have power to opposite field. Now I’m starting to unlock it on the left side and center field.”

Hensley played first, second, third and shortstop in 2021 for the Hooks. With the Astros valuing versatility, I asked Hensley what his thoughts were on being a versatile player on the field. “I think being a jack of all trades is something that people don’t really think about a lot. When it comes time that you need somebody, what better opportunity would it be to have a guy who can play everywhere.”

This wasn’t something that started recently for him. Hensley has been a versatile player for a long time. “I was an outfielder in college majority but I played infield all my life so I was already used to bouncing around. My college coach actually set it up for me, I played 8 positions in 4 years. Everywhere but catcher. Coming into pro ball it was nothing different for me. There was no adversity or doubt in my mind when they put me at second base or when they put me at third base, or put me at shortstop. I think I’m a good enough athlete and good enough competitor to get the job done wherever they put me.”

One thing to keep in mind about Hensley, he isn’t built like the typical shortstop. He is listed at 6’6″ and 190 lbs, though he appeared bigger than that in person. I asked Hensley about the doubters he has had due to his height and the stigma on tall middle infielders. His first response was this “Funny stat was, I was actually the tallest D1 shortstop when I played in my regional for my senior year they actually put it on ESPN. It was pretty cool.”

He went on to add “Being tall man, everyone thinks it has maybe balance or quickness or what not, I think growing up just staying athletic and being versatile has played in a role in now where I have feet underneath me and I know how to use my feet the correct way. I don’t think it’s a difference. Yea some guys might be a little quicker than me but my strides are longer. It just depends, but personally no I don’t think it effects me playing anywhere. I’m actually more comfortable up the middle than I am at the corners.”

The doubters have been there though. Hensley added “People obviously doubt, I’ve heard that my whole life. You’re not gonna play in the middle, you’re gonna be a first baseman or going to end up in the outfield. Why put a period on the end of the sentence? Especially with the game changing, versatility is key in the game nowadays.”

I asked Hensley about his goal for the 2022 season and with no hesitation he answered, “make it to the big leagues”. With his ability to play all over the infield, the Astros love for versatility, and the improvements he’s made offensively, this goal seems very attainable for him this season. Hensley to this point is hitting .333 with 6 RBI through 11 games in Triple-A.

 

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