Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo didn’t expect Anthony Rendon to be around when the sixth pick of the 2011 Draft came up, but injury concerns led to the Rice University third baseman, considered the best hitter in the draft that summer, still being available when the Nats’ top pick of that year’s draft arrived. It was not a hard decision to go with the then-21-year-old infielder.
”We were pleasantly surprised that he got to us at six,” Rizzo told reporters that night.
“Going into the draft season, he was projected to be the No. 1 pick, the best college hitter in the game, and throughout the college season and the draft season he held on to that status, and as late as about twenty-four hours ago he was supposedly going one or two in the draft. So we’re pleasantly surprised, we did a lot of work on him, we feel we know him very, very well. Our Vice President of Player Personnel Roy Clark actually drafted him out of high school for the Atlanta Braves and 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.”
Rendon put up a .327/.520/.523 line with 20 doubles, six home runs, 80 walks, and 33 Ks in in 63 games and 214 at bats that season, though he was limited to mostly DH duties by the ankle and shoulder injuries that raised concerns.
Rizzo was not concerned about the injury history, given the talent that Rendon possessed.
“He had a couple of ankle surgeries and a shoulder problem this year that kept him limited to DH duties throughout most of the season,” the GM explained.
“Played a little bit in the field, but our medical staff has cleared his health and we feel that if that was the reason he fell to sixth, we’re satisfied in the work we’ve done on him and we’re happy to have him.”
“We think that he’s athletic enough to play several different positions. We feel that he has Gold Glove-caliber defensive skills at third base. We’re going to see where and when we have to make a decision on that. What we think we have is a very polished, accomplished college hitter. The 2010 National Player of the Year and a consummate, professional hitter.”
But seriously, to reiterate, Rizzo was really excited that Rendon was there at No. 6 overall after Gerrit Cole went to Pittsburgh, Danny Hultzen went to Seattle, Trevor Bauer went to Arizona, Dylan Bundy went to Baltimore, and Bubba Starling went to Kansas City.
”We felt great about it,” Rizzo said.
“This is a guy that coming into this draft was the No. 1 projected player in the draft, the National Player of the Year, and like I said, we lined them up as far as who would give us the most impact and when Kansas City made their pick and we knew that Anthony was going to be ours, we felt really good about it. We felt good about the draft list that we had, we had a good list of guys on there, and Anthony was right there and when our turn came, we had no second thoughts about pulling the trigger, and like I said we feel great about getting this type of player into the system.”
Seven years later, with the 2019 Draft less than a week away, Rizzo still talked excitedly in an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies about how he and the Nationals’ scouts get prepared for what he refers to as baseball’s Super Bowl.
“I call the draft next Monday that’s the baseball Super Bowl,” Rizzo said. “It’s one of the most important three days of the year. That’s how you build your team, and these guys have been on the road probably for the last six months, going home maybe two or three times a month in the last six months.
“We lock in the Draft Room right now, starting today, and we’ll be there till next Monday for 8-10-12-14 hours a day trying to grind it out, put the board together, and when it’s our turn to make the call at the pick 17 on Day 1, we’ll have the right guy in hand and hopefully he’s a impact big leaguer for us.”
He’ll have to wait for 16 other teams to make a decision this time, but there will be a long list of players they can take at No. 17.
“We have a wish list. It’s not that large because of the baseball draft, we draft 40 rounds, and we probably sign 25 of those 40 players that we draft. We’ll have a wish list each and every round of guys that we’d love to get, and it’s a great scene in the draft room when a guy falls to you. For instance when Anthony Rendon fell to us at [No. 6] years back, there was jubilation in the Draft room, because we had knew we had the guy that we wanted, because we had him ranked No. 1 or 2 on the draft board, and we got him at six, so that’s a good feeling.”
Signing Rendon to an extension will be an even better feeling, right? Will the Nationals be able to get a deal done before the now-28-year-old infielder hits the free agent market next winter?
Rizzo talked in June of 2011 about going into negotiations with Rendon’s agent Scott Boras at that point.
“The representative, Scott Boras, we’ve dealt with him several times, and we’ve got a good relationship with the agent, we’ve got a great relationship with the player and the family, so we feel optimistic as we do all the time that we’re going to get this guy signed and playing in the Nationals’ organization.”
Rendon signed a 4-year/$7.2M major league deal that summer (which included a $6M bonus).
He’s making $18.8M this season after he and the Nationals avoided arbitration this past January.
He’s still represented by Boras, and is going to get a significant raise from someone before the 2020 campaign begins.