A partial fracture of his left ankle limited Anthony Rendon to 43 games and 160 plate appearances in 2012, his first pro season after the Washington Nationals made him the sixth overall pick in the 2011 Draft. Widely considered the top hitter available that June, Rendon fell to the Nats due at least in part to concern over a shoulder injury which limited him to DH duties in his final season at Rice and two previous ankle injuries he suffered in college in 2009 and during international competition in 2010.
Rendon finished his collegiate career with an impressive combined .371/.505/.679 line, 46 doubles, 52 HRs, 176 walks and 78 Ks in 187 games, and as the 2013 season started, Nats' GM Mike Rizzo's told ESPN980's Kevin Sheehan and Thom Loverro that the only concern was getting the then-22-year-old infielder, who turned 23 in June, enough at bats to aid his development after he missed significant time in 2012.
"Anthony is a terrific talent," Rizzo said. "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."
An injury to third baseman Ryan Zimmerman early in the season led to Rendon's MLB debut and a short stint at third base and Danny Espinosa's rough start and injury issues resulted in Rendon being called up to start at second in the majors on an everyday basis in the first week of June. From June 5th through the end of the season, Rendon put up a .267/.326/.405 line with 22 doubles and seven home runs in 90 games and 364 PAs. He finished the year at +1.5 fWAR.
Rendon arrived at NatsFest this weekend at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, MD, as the frontrunner for the job as the Nationals' everyday second baseman in 2014, though the Nats' GM, new manager Matt Williams and 2013 Opening Day second baseman Danny Espinosa are determined that there is going to be a competition for the position this spring. Rendon said Saturday he plans to go to Spring Training and do his job and let the Nationals decide.
"It's not my decision in the end," he told reporters. "If they feel I'm the one that's going to be out there to help the team, it's going to be me, if not, I'm going to be cheering on the other teammates."
He was clear though that he was confident about what he did last year and ready to play in the majors.
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"I'm pretty confident in what I did," Rendon said. "It could have been better, it could have been worse. Things happen for a reason. I"m going to take it in stride and take it one day at a time." He did, however, say that he's happy he knows what position he's preparing to play as the season begins. "I get to stay in one area, just try to continue to work on my footwork and just try to learn the position as much as I can and just keep growing."
"I guess going in there, I guess there's a little more of a sense of comfortability," Rendon said when asked about heading to Spring Training for the third time. "But you never want to stay comfortable where you're at. You want to keep getting better and keep working hard. And I'm going to try to stay there. They said that's the hardest thing, is staying up in the big leagues instead of actually just getting there."
As for what he's worked on the most as he's tried to improve at second, Rendon said it's positioning at second after coming up as a third baseman.
"That's always the biggest key," he explained. "Getting into the right position to make the best play or make the play actually and especially coming from the left side [of the infield], you go over to the right side, you're like, 'All right, now where do I go?' But I had great teachers, I had great teammates that helped me out. That helped me through the whole year. And I just learned something from each and every one of them and they helped me position for certain players who come up to bat in certain situations."
Knowing individual hitter's tendencies and reacting to what pitchers are doing is something he's concentrated on improving. "That's a big key and that's where [Adam] LaRoche actually helped me out with a lot of it," Rendon said. "He's a veteran player and he's actually played with all these guys. He's been around and he knows how they swing or how they pitch, how our pitchers pitch. And so he'll like shade me to the left or shade me to the right and I remember those things and I try to use it so he won't have to keep telling me where to play the whole time."
The 23-year-old infielder has already learned a lot, but he's aware that he's still got a long way to go. "I think I've come pretty far," Rendon said, "but you know, baseball is a tricky game. You never stop learning in this game. You can be a 15-20-year veteran and you can learn something the next day. That's how crazy this game is, so I'm just ready to learn."
There will be a new manager teaching Rendon this year in D.C., but it's one he has history with. Matt Williams' only previous experience as a manager came in 2012 in the Arizona Fall League when he managed several Nats' prospects including Rendon, who put up a .338/.436/.494 line with 10 doubles, 15 walks and 14 Ks in 22 games and 94 PAs for the Salt River Rafters. According to Rendon, Williams had an idea back then that he might eventually end up in the nation's capital.
"I actually [asked] him," Rendon told reporters this weekend. "I was like, 'Hey, did you know something was up when I asked you in Arizona? Did you have kind of an idea you were going to come here?' He goes, 'Oh, no. Yes and no. Not really.' He goes, 'I kind of knew, but you know nothing was set in stone, obviously, but I knew I was in the running.' But it's kind of awesome that he's actually here. That he gets to be my manager."
Rendon had a mentor in former manager Davey Johnson who pulled him aside last spring for one-on-one sessions where he tried to tutor the young infielder on the details of playing second base.
Asked if anything Johnson told him stuck with him, he said, "Definitely. He always tells me to transition my weight because a lot of times I like to rely on my arm to turn the double plays and throw to second base. He wants me to transition my weight and fall forward toward first base to rely on my legs and not so much my arm and cause a strain and to make that hard throw. That's really helped me a lot."
The top hitter taken in the 2011 Draft has come a long way in a short time and overcome the injury issues he knows could have kept him from getting where he is. "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."
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