Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE
Washington Nationals' 2011 1st Round pick Anthony Rendon is expected to start the season in Double-A Harrisburg, on a path the Nats' current infielders have taken before. Can the 22-year-old infielder stay healthy and work his way up to the majors in his second pro season?
Torn ligaments in his right ankle. A fractured right ankle in a separate, unrelated injury. A strained shoulder that limited him to DH duties in his Junior year/draft year at Rice. A fall to the 6th overall pick held by the Washington Nationals when he was once considered a potential no.1 overall selection. A partial fracture of his left ankle two games into his first pro season with the High-A Potomac Nationals. It's been a rough two-plus years for the Nats' 2011 1st Round pick, Anthony Rendon, who did, however, manage to: 1. Put up a .327/.520/.523 line with an NCAA-best 80 walks over 63 games in his final collegiate campaign; 2. Get taken in the 1st Round of the 2011 Draft and 3. Move up to Double-A quickly in the Nats' organization in spite of another serious injury early in his pro career.
In a Houston Chronicle article this past May after the latest ankle injury, the 22-year-old infielder, who'll turn 23 in June 2013, told reporter Joseph Duarte that he doubted he would play again in 2012. A Nationals' spokesman who talked to MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr at the time told him that barring any setbacks Rendon would be back on the field in late July or August and he was, returning to play in the NY/Penn League with the Auburn Doubledays before going back to Potomac and then Double-A Harrisburg before his first pro season came to an end.
The former Rice Owls' third baseman finished his first year in the Nationals' organization with a .233/.363/.489 line, eight doubles, four triples and six home runs in 43 games and 160 plate appearances. Rendon then went to the Arizona Fall League where he posted a .338/.436/.494 line with 10 doubles, a triple, 15 walks and 14 Ks in 77 at bats over 22 games, earning himself a roster spot in the AFL Rising Stars Game and receiving recognition as one of the top players to take part in the so-called "finishing school" for the game's top prospects.
MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo had Rendon atop his list of the Nationals' prospects this winter, describing the infielder Mike Rizzo said had, "Gold Glove caliber defensive skills at third base," when he drafted him, as, "... a plus defender at third," who, "... has the kind of advanced approach," at the plate, "that should allow him to move quickly while hitting for average and power."
Baseball America's Aaron Fitt agreed, putting Rendon no.1 on BA's 2013 Nats' Top 10 Prospect list. Baseball America also had Rendon listed as the "Best Hitter For Average," with the "Best Strikezone Discipline" and they picked him as the "Best Defensive Infielder" in the Nats' organization. Minor League Ball's John Sickels gave Rendon a B+ grade (adding that he was "Borderline A") when he too ranked him as the Nationals' top prospect earlier this winter.
Rendon, who signed a 4-year/$7.2M dollar major league deal after he was drafted in 2011, attended his first major league spring training last March and he'll be back in camp with the Nats at the start of Grapefruit League action this year as well. Asked about the plans for the team's top prospect in a recent MLB Network Radio interview, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo said Rendon would see time at different spots around the infield as he did last spring before he's sent to minor league camp and on to Double-A where he's likely to start his second pro season.
"Anthony's going to come to spring training and play several different positions for Davey [Johnson] in spring training," Rizzo said, "But when we send him down to the minor leagues, he'll concentrate primarily at third base and we may shift him around a little bit, because we want [Matt] Skole to play a little bit [of] third base also in Double-A. But we think [Rendon's] primary position is at third base, but he's athletic enough to play shortstop and second base, and I think you'll get a look at him in those positions in spring training for sure."
In an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier this weekend, Rendon told the hosts that his success in the AFL was a confidence boost after he'd struggled upon returning to the minors this July following the ankle injury. "I was really just trying to find out where I was at," Rendon said, "And just trying to learn how to hit again and when I got to Arizona it just started clicking and I started trying to feel normal again and I just started going back to the basics, trying to square up the baseball, put the barrel on it and just let the ball work for [itself]." Asked about potentially switching positions to get up to the majors as soon as possible, Rendon said he thought the organization and Nats' GM Mike Rizzo knew he'd do anything he was asked.
"I think he knows this is everybody's dream to come up and play at the highest level," Rendon said, "And I'm just trying... any way I can, I just want to play the game and if he feels I can play this position or that position and if it's my time, then it's my time." As for what he's been told to work on, the young infielder said he's just been told to do what he does and get used to the routine nature of the professional game. "They just told me to try to get into a routine," Rendon said, "That's what you're going to do every day if you eventually make it. You've got to get used to the routine, you know, it's a daily grind every day."
"So that's what I've been trying to do this whole offseason," Rendon continued, "Trying to get used to the routine so when I go into spring training I'm already used to it." Staying healthy for a whole season has to be the main goal for the Nationals' top prospect, however, who needs to show that he can stay on the field and produce, but starting the season at Double-A sets him up for a similar jump to the one the Nationals' current major league infielders have made in recent years.
Ian Desmond, who was in his sixth major league season after being drafted out of high school, was 23 when he started the 2009 season at Double-A made the jump to Triple-A and then made his major league debut late that season. Danny Espinosa was 23 in 2010 in his second full major league season after the Nationals drafted him out college in 2008 when he started the season at Double-A, jumped to Triple-A and debuted late that season and Steve Lombardozzi was 22 in his fourth minor league campaign when repeated the process in 2011.
"I'm just out there trying to have fun with it," Rendon said when asked about the wait and knowing how close he was to the majors, "I've been doing this my whole life, I've been playing baseball. The game hasn't changed, obviously only the competition has gotten better. So when it's my time to come up it will be my time..."