Anthony Rendon's eighth inning home run today in the Washington Nationals' split-squad game against the Houston Astros put the traveling Nats up 7-5 in what ended up being a 9-7 win on the road in Kissimmee, Florida's Osceola County Stadium. Rendon was 4 for 5 with a double and the home run, leaving the 22-year-old, 2011 1st Round pick 12 for 32 (.375/.412/.875) with four doubles and four home runs in 13 Grapefruit League games. In an interview with ESPN980's The Sports Fix hosts Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro this afternoon, Nationals' General Manager Mike Rizzo was asked if it was a sign of the times that a player who was having that hot a start was not going to make the Opening Day roster as Davey Johnson assured [over-] enthusiastic reporters a week or so back.
As the Nats' 52-year-old GM and Executive Vice President of Baseball Ops explained, however, even back then, just a few years ago when the team wasn't winning divisions or talking World Series seriously, Rendon would not have made the Opening Day roster. "I really don't think he would [make it]," Rizzo said. "If I was the general manager, even if it was years back -- you know, Anthony is a terrific talent, he's got a great skill set, he's going to be an impact player in the very-near-future, but he's a guy without many professional at bats due to injury."
A partial fracture of his left ankle, suffered rounding third in just his second minor league game last April paused Rendon's first pro season until late July when he returned to the Nats' system. Overall, on the year, the former Rice University infielder whose previous injury history caused him to drop to sixth overall in the 2011 Draft where the Nationals selected him, got in just 43 games at four levels of the Nats' organization, posting a combined .233/.363/.489 line with eight doubles, four triples and six home runs in 160 plate appearances.
As Rendon explained it in an interview on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. back in January, it wasn't until he finished the season and went to the Arizona Fall League that he finally felt comfortable at the plate. "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]." At the so-called finishing school for the game's top prospects, Rendon posted a .338/.436/.494 line with 10 doubles, a triple, 15 walks and 14 Ks in 77 at bats over 22 games.
Now he's back in Spring Training with the Nationals for the second time and both he and the Nats want a full, healthy season on the field this year. "We think he's a quick-to-the-big-leagues guy," Rizzo told ESPN980's Mr.'s Sheehan and Loverro this afternoon. "We said that from the day we drafted him. We were fortunate and had the guts enough to take him out of the draft and rehab him and get him healthy and we think that once he gets some more professional at bats under his belt he's going to be an asset to us and be an impact player for us."
"But," the Nats' GM explained, "I think it would be too soon to rush him to the big leagues, because even in days gone by, he's still a guy that has an extremely high ceiling and I would hate to rush a guy like that to the big leagues and set him back in his developmental curve. So we, I still think we would take our time with him and do the right thing and develop him properly because there's so much at stake with him that we need to develop him properly, because he's got a chance to be really, really good."
A sure sign that Rendon's a quick-to-the-majors-type of player? His jersey number? Seriously? When Rizzo was asked on ESPN980, the GM answered seriously and just explained how the team felt about Rendon when they drafted him. "We think Anthony has a chance to be an impactful player for us," Rizzo said, "We thought so the first time I saw him in high school and then his early days at Rice University. Kris Kline and Roy Clark, our guys who run our amateur draft, do a great job identifying the impact-type of guys in the draft and we had [Rendon] on the board, he was really strong on the board and opportunity knocked and we took a risk, but we thought that the reward outweighed the risk and we took him sixth and gave him a major league contract because of what we thought we had and how quickly he could make it to the big leagues."
"Suffice it to say, we're comfortable with the pick and we love the player," Rizzo explained, "but with that said, he hasn't done anything yet. And we're trying to get his feet wet in professional baseball."
In an interview with ESPN.com's Buster Olney broadcast early this morning, however, the Nats' General Manager actually talked about the fact that Rendon didn't end up with one of the no.89 jerseys you sometimes see prospects wear in Spring Training. How'd the Nationals' prospect end up being assigned the no.6?
"When we signed him, we signed him to a major league contract and he was on the 40-Man roster and his first Spring Training here he certainly wasn't as comfortable as he is right now and when our clubhouse man, Mike Wallace, talks to the players and picks out numbers [there] certainly is a pecking order and Anthony is certainly one of our bright, up-and-coming stars and I guess they negotiate a number that it's going to be. And you're right, it's not no.96, it's no.6, I think because we're going to have to be buying jerseys in the near future with his name on the back of it."
Now where will Rendon play? That's another topic altogether...