Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo, then-Assistant GM and VP of Player Personnel Roy Clark and Scouting Director Kris Kline spoke glowingly of 1st Round pick Anthony Rendon on the night of the 2011 Draft. Clark, in particular, had history with the right-handed hitting and throwing third baseman out of Rice University who fell to the Nats with the sixth overall pick when he was once considered a potential no.1 overall because of concerns about a shoulder injury which limited him to DH duties in his final collegiate campaign
"Roy Clark actually drafted him out of high school for the Atlanta Braves," Rizzo explained, and though Rendon didn't sign, Clark, "...got to know him very, very well, so we've had a long relationship with him and his family and we feel really good about it."
Rizzo described Rendon, who finished his three-year career at Rice with a combined .371/.505/.679 line, 46 doubles, 52 HRs, 176 walks and 78 Ks in 187 games, as the "best college hitter in the game" and "the most accomplished hitter in the draft" as well as "the most polished, with huge upside" and added that defensively, Rendon was "a Gold Glove-type of defender."
Clark recounted having watched Rendon put on a hitting display after the Braves drafted him out of high school in the 27th Round of the 2008 Draft.
"We brought him in to a tournament there in Atlanta," Clark recalled, "a wood bat tournament, and he proceeded to go 11 for 13 with ten doubles with a wood bat against the best pitching in the country. Didn't stop there, absolutely dominant, not only in college, but in the summers. The only thing that stopped him was the shoulder and the ankle." Rendon injured his right ankle twice in college in 2009 and 2010 then dealt with the shoulder issue in 2011. With a little time off to heal, however, Clark said the Nats were confident Rendon would be fine.
The Nationals signed Rendon a 4-year/$7.2M major league deal, but the injury woes continued in 2012 when he suffered a partial fracture of his left ankle just two games into his professional career at High-A Potomac in the Nats' system. Rendon returned to the field late that summer and then traveled to the Arizona Fall League, where he put up a .338/.436/.494 line with 10 doubles, 15 walks and 14 Ks in 94 PAs in the so-called "finishing school" for the game's top prospects.
Rizzo talked about Rendon simply getting his "feet wet" professionally during Spring Training in 2013, since he'd missed so much time in his first minor league season, but an early-season injury to Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa's offensive struggles sped the developmental process up so that Rendon was in the majors full time by June after just 326 minor league PAs, over which he hit 20 doubles, six triples and 12 HRs while walking 55 times, striking out 57 times and posting a combined .269/.408/.531 line.
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In his first major league season, while he learned second base on the job, Rendon put up a .265/.329/.396 line with 23 doubles, seven home runs, 31 walks and 69 Ks in 394 PAs over which he was worth +1.5 fWAR. While he shifted to second because of the opening that existed there due to Espinosa's issues, there's been plenty of talk from the start about where Rendon is going to play in the future?
For now, at least, he pencilled in at second with Ryan Zimmerman at third, Ian Desmond at short, Adam LaRoche at first and Espinosa expected to fill the utility role Steve Lombardozzi handled for the last two seasons before he was dealt to Detroit earlier this winter.
Davey Johnson joked last Spring about Zimmerman's reaction after watching Rendon at the plate, telling reporters including MLB.com's Bill Ladson that the '05 1st Round pick who has manned third since 2005, asked, "'Are there any other positions he plays?'" New Nationals' skipper Matt Williams' request when he spoke with Zimmerman this winter, that the third baseman get himself a first baseman's glove and work at first this Spring with the intention of playing 10-15 games this season might hint at the plans for Zimmerman's future once LaRoche's two-year deal with the Nats ends after this year.
Will a move across the diamond for Zimmerman mean a shift back to third base for Rendon in another year or two?
Veteran Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell was asked in a chat with readers on Monday what the ceiling was for the 6th overall pick of the 2011 Draft, and after writing that the, "Nats think Rendon will be a career .290 hitter or better with lots of doubles early in his career and 20-homer power as he fills out," the WaPost reporter wondered aloud about where Rendon might end up in the future. "Physically, he looks like a second baseman but will he ever be more than slightly below average at that spot defensively?" Boswell asked rhetorically. "At third base, with time," he continued, "more think he's above average, maybe even very good with a plus arm and quick first-step reactions."
On the night the Nationals drafted Rendon in 2011, the Nats' GM said he thought the infielder had the skills to be an exceptional defensive third baseman. "'We feel that we've evaluated him as a Gold Glove caliber defensive guy at third base," Rizzo said. Will Rendon end up back at the hot corner eventually? If Zimmerman is fully-recovered and returns to form at third, the Nationals can add a first baseman next winter, assuming LaRoche won't be back in 2015. Tyler Moore and Matt Skole might work their way into the picture at first at that point? One way or another his bat and patience at the plate will likely keep Rendon on the field. Where he ends up playing defensively after this season?
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