With just 79 minor league games on his resume after an injury-interrupted 43-game first professional season in 2012 and a 36-game run in 2013, Anthony Rendon was called up to play second base for the Washington Nationals when the Nats made the decision last June to DL and then option struggling infielder Danny Espinosa. Drafted as a third baseman out of Rice University with the 6th overall pick in 2011, Rendon played just eight minor league games at second base before the Nationals brought him up to play there every day.
At the end of his first full pro campaign, which saw the right-handed hitting and throwing 23-year-old infielder post a .265/.329/.396 line with 23 doubles and seven home runs in 98 games and 394 plate appearances over which he was worth +1.5 fWAR, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo praised the work the infielder did while learning in the majors in an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier.
"He was actually learning at the major league level," Rizzo told the show's hosts. "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."
At the start of the 2013 season, the goal was to keep Rendon healthy after he dealt with separate ankle injuries in 2009, 2010 and 2012 and was limited to DH duties by a shoulder issue in his final collegiate season in 2011.
When the season ended, Rizzo told reporters, including NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman that though there would be a competition for the starting job at second in Spring Training with Danny Espinosa fighting to retake the position he lost, Rendon ended the year as the starting second baseman:
"'Rendon has played remarkably well at that position for a guy who is learning defensively at the major-league level and trying to hit for the first time at the major-league level. Compound that with that he’s played more games than he’s ever played in his career, and he’s had a remarkable rookie season.'"
Rendon told reporters this winter that after a few serious injuries, he was just happy to be healthy and competing for the job.
"I'm fortunate enough to be in this position at all," Rendon said.
"I know some people that have just one surgery and they haven't really recovered from it or they've been hindered from their playing skills. I've been fortunate enough, I've been blessed that after a few surgeries, I'm still up here. So, I must be doing something right. I don't know what it is yet, but I'm going to go along with it."
New Nationals' manager Matt Williams told reporters this spring that he knows Rendon well after working with the infielder in the Arizona Fall League and he was impressed with what he accomplished in his rookie campaign.
"Last year, it was a little bit rushed for him," Williams said. "He had his wisdom teeth pulled, and then had a few days of second base before he got to the big leagues. Otherwise he'd played third most of the time. So, I think he did a great job of adjusting on the fly. It's not easy."
With a full, healthy season behind him and the experience of what he learned at second base as a rookie in 2013, what should be expected of Rendon in 2014? ESPN.com's Keith Law listed Rendon as one of "10 breakout picks for 2014," writing this morning that he sees plenty of reasons that the top-ranked hitter in the 2011 Draft, who finished his collegiate career with a combined .371/.505/.679 line, 46 doubles, 52 HRs, 176 walks and 78 Ks in 187 games, will improve on his rookie campaign.
Citing his "tremendous bat speed" and "excellent eye" at the plate, and the fact that he seemed to still be "evolving as a hitter" in the majors with the Nationals last season, the ESPN analyst projects a .300/.360/.440-ish line for Rendon this season.
Through eleven Grapefruit League games, Rendon is 9 for 28 (.321/.412/.500) with a double and home run. Are the injury issues (which were random at least) behind him? Will his comfort with second base allow him to concentrate more on his hitting? With a full pro season behind him, is the Nationals' 2011 1st Round pick ready for a breakout campaign in the nation's capital in 2014?