There were questions about where Anthony Rendon might fit in the Washington Nationals' infield from the time he was drafted. Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters on the night they made the third baseman out of Rice the sixth overall pick of the 2011 Draft that they'd make a decision when he was MLB-ready.
"We feel that we've evaluated him as a Gold Glove caliber defensive guy at third base," Rizzo said. "We're going to delay that decision til he gets to the big leagues and establishes himself here and we'll make those decisions down the road."
The Nationals signed Rendon to a 4-year/$7.2M major league deal out of the draft.
Nationals' manager Davey Johnson was impressed with Rendon from the start in the infielder's second go-round in the Grapefruit League, telling reporters early in Spring Training that the then-22-year-old infielder's versatility was a big plus. "He's got an idea on how to get that bat on the ball," Johnson said. "Got good hands. Good stroke. And he can play a lot of positions. I like him at third, and I also didn't mind him at short. And he's got some [aptitude] at second."
Johnson, who had 13 seasons as a major league second baseman on his resume, worked with Rendon, giving him private lessons on footwork at second.
Nats' Director of Player Development Doug Harris told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Chad Dukes and Danny Rouhier in March that Rendon had the skills to play second base. "He's a very gifted defender who has the ability to play in multiple positions," Harris explained. "He's getting a ton of reps now at third base and doing some stuff footwork-wise at second base."
"He has very gifted hands," Harris said. "He has very good feet. His feet really work well in small spaces. It's not always how fast a guy is, but how well his feet work in those small spaces. What his body control is like. And he's blessed with all those tools."
Rendon had a .375/.412/.875 line with four doubles and four home runs in 13 games in Spring Training. He started the second season in the Nats' system at Double-A Harrisburg after finishing there in 2011 when he returned from the partially-fractured ankle that cost him important at bats in his first pro season. The goal for 2013 at the start was simply to stay on the field and stay healthy after a few injury-plagued seasons.
Rendon was 14 for 48 (.292/.462/.500), with four doubles, two home runs, 14 walks and nine strikeouts in 14 games and 65 plate appearances at Double-A before he was called up to make his major league debut at third in April with Ryan Zimmerman sidelined by a hamstring issue.
With the Senators, Rendon got some work in at second but spent most of his time at third, as the Nats played him at his most comfortable defensive position. When he was called back up for the second time in June, he was brought to Washington to replace the struggling Danny Espinosa, who was sent to Triple-A Syracuse once he returned from a DL stint. Rendon put up a .330/.358/.473 line with 10 doubles and a home run in 22 games and 95 PAs in his first full month in the majors in June. He made five errors in his first 91 chances at second.
Rendon made just four errors in his next 278 chances, however, and he had a .986 fld% over the final 60 games of his rookie campaign as he learned to play second in the majors. Among NL second baseman with at least 700 innings in the field in 2013, Rendon's .976 fld% on the year ranked 11th, ahead only the Brewers' Rickie Weeks (.975) and the Phillies' Chase Utley (.971) and tied with the Giants' Marco Scutaro and the Mets' Daniel Murphy.
Rendon's +3.4 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating - which Fangraphs explains measures the, "... number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined,") was fifth amongst second baseman with 700 innings+ on defense.
Offensively, Rendon finished his first major league campaign with a .265/.325/.396 line, 23 doubles and seven home runs in 98 games and 394 PAs. He finished his first season in D.C. at +1.5 fWAR.
Davey Johnson told reporters, including CSNWashington.com's Chase Hughes, late this season that Rendon was already an above-average second baseman in spite of the fact that he got limited reps there in the minors (eight games) and had to learn on the job at the major league level:
"'He’s farther along than I thought he was going to be. His footwork’s really good around the bag, he’s still learning a little bit about positioning. He’s a good second baseman. I would classify him a little above average.'"
The Nats' GM told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier he was impressed with Rendon's work in 2013. "He was actually learning at the major league level," Rizzo said, "how to play a new position and adjusting to the league and learning how to perform offensively in the big leagues and I thought did a great job with that." Though there will be an "open competition" in Spring Training in 2014, Rizzo said in September that as the season ended, Rendon was the starting second baseman.
Rendon began the year as the Nationals' no.1 prospect on Baseball America's Top 10 list. He stayed healthy and quickly graduated from prospect status to end the year as the starting second baseman in the nation's capital.
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