Anthony Michael Rendon
Time to 1B: 4.3s
60 Time: 6.8s
Wide shoulders; square, stocky frame with thick core and well-developed lower half; thin arms, plays loose with room to add muscle; medium hand size
Dislocated Right Ankle May ’09, Broken Right Ankle July ’10, Strained Shoulder April ’11, Fractured Left Ankle April ’12
Excellent poise, self-confidence; coachable; excellent dedication and work habits, and has shown mental toughness returning from injuries and handling the spotlight; has excelled under pressure in the NCAA tournament, performed well in AFL postseason.
A Dick Hauser Trophy winner and Conference USA Player of the Year while at Rice University, Rendon rose to the top of the draft ranks heading in to June, 2012. Though his talent was almost universally regarded as the best of the draft class, injury concerns tarnished his stock just enough for him to fall in to the Nationals’ hands at the number-six overall slot. For the third time in three years, Washington brought home the prize of the draft, and ended up handing Rendon a hefty $6 million signing bonus.
Rendon’s college career was legendary. He hit .388 and paced Conference USA with 20 bombs as a freshman, and then posted a .394 batting average and a .801 slugging percentage as a sophomore. Though injuries combined with the NCAA’s new bat rules to suppress his junior-season production, Rendon still hit an impressive .327 and his .520 on-base percentage ranked fifth in the nation in 2011. All in all, he totaled a .371 career batting average, with 52 homeruns and 102 extra-base hits in 187 games. He struck out just 78 times and racked up a whopping 176 walks during that three-season span.
Rendon made his pro debut with the Nationals in the Carolina League last season. He reached based four times in his first six plate appearances before severely spraining and partially fracturing his ankle in the second game of the regular season. Because he’d suffered two previous broken ankles in college, it appeared that Rendon would miss the rest of the season.
But Rendon persevered and returned to the field after only three months of rehabilitation. He started out in the Gulf Coast League, reaching base seven times in fourteen plate appearances and mashing two homers. After a pit stop in Auburn, Washington then returned him to the Carolina League, to play in Potomac where he’d started the season. In nine games there, he absolutely tore the cover off the ball, hitting .333/.438/.630. Looking healthy and ready for more, he earned a promotion to double-A Harrisburg to close out 2012.
Rendon spent the final month of the season playing alongside Brian Goodwin and Destin Hood with the Senators. Though his production fell off against the league’s more seasoned pitchers, he still managed to finish with an impressive .851 OPS, combined across four levels. Showing the patience and hitting prowess the Nationals had hoped he would, he drew 23 walks in 43 games and 18 of his 31 hits went for extra bases.
After Rendon lost a large chunk of his debut season to injury, the Nationals decided to send him to the Arizona Fall League to get him some extra work against quality competition. Playing with the Salt River Rafters, Rendon responded by hitting a hefty .338/.436/.494 and he drew more walks (15) than strikeouts (14). He ranked among league leaders in nearly every hitting statistic, and his performance earned him a spot on the prestigious AFL Rising Stars team.
A phenomenal prospect, Rendon is capable of impacting the game with his glove, arm, legs and power, but his pure hitting ability truly sets him apart as an elite player. He’s a tremendous athlete, blessed with the hitting tools to hit .300, get on base at a 40 percent clip and drive 20 home runs and 60 extra-base hits in his prime. He boasts the requisite balance, hand-eye coordination and body control to be a star, and he’s spent his entire baseball career perfecting his swing—and it shows. He generates electric bat-speed gracefully, and employs his abs and lower body seamlessly in his cut.
Rendon owes his success at the plate partly to his selectivity and partly to his flawless mechanics. First of all, he’s blessed with a remarkable batting eye and he appears to recognize and react to pitches quicker than his peers—helping him make quality contact consistently. And while he’s built with an average-looking 5’11” frame, his ability to barrel the ball with explosive bat-speed leads to tremendous power and high batting averages on balls in play. He sprays line drives in all directions, and has the natural loft to drive long homers to his pull side.
The secret to Rendon’s swing lays in is his knack for keeping his hands back as his front hip opens. Similar to Albert Pujols, he cocks his hands back and takes a short stride (a toe-tap in Rendon’s case) in one quiet motion, and then uses his hips and core to whip the barrel across the plate on an extremely efficient path. His strong hands pull the handle in towards his belt buckle as he swings, leading to tremendous barrel velocity. In short, this technique helps him gather as much power from his strong lower body and abdominals as possible.
Unlike most young hitters, that either have to trade power for a shorter, more linear swing, or contact for a longer, harder swing, Rendon enjoys the best of both worlds. He explodes to the baseball on a direct, smooth hand-path, and he’s textbook at employing his lower-half. He also repeats his swing like a machine, from pitch to pitch, and rarely leaves an at bat cheated.
Rendon’s hitting prowess helps him make tons of hard contact when he swings the bat, and his selectivity leads to an unrivaled ability to get on base. When he was healthy last fall, he offered a glimpse of what he was capable of doing at the plate. If he can build on that momentum and stay on the diamond, he’s a future .300 hitter with the power to hi 20+ homeruns and the plate discipline to get on as much as 40% of the time.
After suffering two nasty right ankle injuries in his first two years at Rice, the left ankle fracture with the P-Nats’ last spring has obviously nicked Rendon’s foot speed and agility. Early in his college career he could bust it from home plate to first base in 4.2 seconds, and he looked nimble enough to patrol shortstop in the pro’s one day. Now he’s more of a fringy runner, but he’s still quick enough and smooth enough to stretch extra-base hits—evidenced by his four triples last year.
In the field, Rendon’s acrobatic body control and plus reaction speed leads to great range at third base — maybe even enough to man the middle infield in the MLB. Few can move in on choppers and weak grounders as smoothly as he can, and he uses his solid arm to make bare-handed and off-balance throws with superb accuracy. His stocky build and light feet allow him to play with a lower center of gravity (think Edgardo Alfonzo), and he still moves smoothly to both his glove and arm side. Though he doesn’t have the biggest hands, they’re more than soft enough for the corner infield.
Rendon plays the game like a veteran, and in true superstar fashion he makes it look easy. He’s not quite the athlete that some of his fellow top prospects are, but he gets the most out of what he has with a exceptional baseball acumen and an intelligent, well-coached game. He appears to be ready for a big league job, and his patient, right-handed bat is an ideal complement for Bryce Harper’s left-handed thunder. Of course, he’ll have to prove he can stay healthy before the Nats trust him enough to hand him the keys.
Widely considered his draft class’s top hitting prospect coming out of Rice University, Rendon missed most of his professional debut after sustaining a fractured left ankle in the second game of the 2012 regular season. When he returned to the diamond in July, he showed flashes of the player the Nationals hope he will become. Across four levels of the minors last year, he hit .233/.363/.489 and played quality defense at third base. Last fall, he lit up the AFL, and earned a spot playing in the Rising Stars game.
Though the contracts of Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche immediately block Rendon at the corners of the Nationals’ infield, the organization is convinced he’s just about ready for the big leagues. This upcoming spring training will tell a lot about Rendon’s immediate future. The club tried him at shortstop and second base last spring, to get a feel for his ability to man the middle if they decide to keep Zimmerman put. And Mike Rizzo has indicated that they’ll do that again this time around.
Rendon will return to Harrisburg, and play there until at least the early summer. The Nationals’ infield is crowded, but if he performs well and especially if injuries make room for him, he should earn big league at bats by season’s end. His biggest obstacle is health, but if he can stay on the field, his talent makes him a future .300 hitter with 20-homerun-power and a premium glove.
Ryan Kelley is an economist and aspiring journalist living in the D.C. area. Native to Connecticut, he has lived in Washington since graduating from The George Washington University and has covered Minor League Baseball and Team USA for a half-decade. He is founder of BaseballNewsHound.com, and specializes in prospects playing in leagues on the East Coast and in the Mid-Atlantic region. A former ballplayer himself, he enjoys hitting homeruns with his writing and scouting reports. You can follow him on Twitter @BBNewsHound.