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Anthony Rendon is the Nationals' top prospect, and he's one of the best hitters in the minor leagues.
If not for injury concerns, Rendon would've been the top overall pick in the 2011 Draft. But luckily for the Nationals, other teams shied away from handing him a $6 million bonus and he slid to them at the No. 6 slot. With an opportunity to take home the draft's best player for the third straight season, the Nats didn't hesitate to pay him big money to come to D.C.
Before enrolling at Rice University, Rendon played ball at two local Texas high schools, first at George Bush and then at Lamar in Houston. After proving himself as a first-team all-district player as a sophomore, Rendon broke out the next season as a junior, mashing 14 home runs and hitting his way on to the 5-A All-State team. That year, he grew from a short, and stocky 5'6" to a much stronger, sturdier 5'11".
As a senior, Rendon stepped on to the field a much more complete athlete. He was always fleet-footed and nimble, but now he'd added power and muscle to this game. And, his performance at the plate exploded. He hit .570 and raked eight home runs and 27 extra-base hits. In the field, he'd evolved in to a premium shortstop a well. He made contributions to his team in every area of the game, and he helped lead the Redskins to a 29-7 record and the 20-5A Championship.
Born and raised in Texas, it was only fitting for Rendon, one of the state's top recruits, to play for the Rice University Owls. Rice is a local school and one of the strongest baseball programs in the NCAA. Rendon was made for the uniform, and that's where he played. And he really played. He ended up outperforming even the loftiest expectations during his three-season career.
Rendon started his college career with a bang. As a freshman he led Conference USA in batting average (.388), slugging percentage (.702) and he set the school's home-run mark with 20 bombs (19 in the regular season). He suited up for every contest that season, and he carried the Owls to a 43-18 record and all the way to the Super Regional. He kicked his performance in to an even higher gear in the NCAA tournament, batting batting .500 through seven games. Following the season, Anthony became the first player to earn both Conference USA Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors. And, Baseball America honored him as their 2009 Freshman of the Year.
While playing against LSU in the Super Regional however, Rendon ended his season in ugly fashion, tearing multiple ligaments in his right ankle. Luckily though, it was the end of the postseason, so he had plenty of time to rehab and get healthy.
In his second season at Rice, Rendon managed to top his incredible freshman stat lines. He hit .394/.530/.801, and tallied more homeruns (26) than strikeouts (22). His single-season home-run total was second only to Lance Berkman's 41 in the Owls' record books. But he wasn't all bat, he was equally impressive in the field, making just four errors at third base all season. His off the charts performance packed his trophy case with even more awards and accolades. Both Rawlings and Baseball America named him the top player in the nation, and the National College Baseball Writers Association awarded him the Dick Hauser Trophy.
Playing for Team USA in the offseason, Rendon broke his ankle and ruptured multiple ligaments while running the bases in a game against South Korea. For the second time in two years, he was able to finish his injury rehab in time for the regular season. But, this time around, he wasn't quite as effective at the plate. Right after he'd recovered from his second gruesome ankle injury in two years, he strained his shoulder, and his swing suffered. Though he led Division I baseball in walks with 80, and still hit a very impressive .327/.520/.523, his power declined significantly and he was forced to DH for most of the year.
Rendon's professional debut followed a similar trend. When he played, he showed plenty of promise—posting an .851 OPS at four different levels between instructional league and double-A. But injures once again came back to bite him. After collecting a base hit in his professional debut with the Potomac Nationals, Rendon sprained his ankle in the second game of the Spring whiling rounding the bases. He ended up sitting out the next three months, and there were even some rumblings that he would miss the entire season.
Rather than calling it a season, Rendon managed to return to the field right after the All-Star break. The Nats sent him down to the instructional league on a rehab assignment, and he responded by mashing two home runs and a double in eleven at bats. After a pit-stop in Auburn, he returned to Potomac and hit a flashy .333/.438/.630.
The Nationals sent Rendon to double-A Harrisburg to finish out the season. Though he slumped there, posting a meager .162 batting average and .673 OPS through 21games, the club was happy with his progress overall. He fought through injuries and returned to put together a .851 OPS on the season.
Despite the wave of injuries he's dealt with throughout the past three years, Rendon is still one of the most promising prospects in the minor leagues. He's a gamer, and his college career stands as one of the best in history.
Rendon was born to play baseball. He's a smart player, who knows the game inside and out and he simply does everything well. At the plate, he's a textbook hitter, able to hit for average and power. His swing mechanics are fundamentally near-perfect, and generates surprising batspeed out of his medium-sized frame by drawing power from his core and legs. He loads his core muscles efficiently but keeping his hands cocked back after he completes his stride, allowing him to wait on offspeed pitches and explode to the baseball.
His strong hands are the some of the best in the minors, both in the box and in the field, and his swing is sharp, and firm. As he uses his trunk to accelerate to the ball, Rendon pulls the bat handle in toward his belt buckle, allowing him to whip the barrel through the zone with vicious speed. He can catch up to premium heat already, and his uncanny bat control helps him square-up same-side breaking stuff with ease.
Though he's just 22 years old, Rendon plays the game like he's a long-time big leaguer. At the plate, he's extraordinarily disciplined, and his pitch recognition and plate vision are nearly unrivaled. Virtually every time he swings the bat he makes loud contact and finds the barrel. He squares up pitches in all parts of the zone, and he has Major League home-run power to all fields despite underwhelming size and strength. If he can stay healthy, and build on his debut season, he could develop in to a .300 hitter, with the power to hit 20+ home runs annually.
In the field, Rendon could compete for a Gold Glove in the Major Leagues already. The same excellent hands that make him a lethal hitter at the plate, give him an advantage in the field as well. He's remarkably sure-handed, and he never makes careless errors.
His quick, acrobatic feet and low center of gravity, allow him to cover shortstop-grade range to both his glove and arm side. He reacts with the crack of the bat, and his body control allows him to field even the toughest, missiles in the hole. And, he rounds out his defensive game with a strong accurate arm.
Like Ryan Zimmerman, Rendon's glove is a strength. Even if the Nationals need to move him in deference to their franchise third baseman, his nimble feet and impressive body control will allow him to develop in to a plus middle infielder.
Rendon is an incredible all-around player. He offers an exceedingly rare mix of make-up, tools, and polish, and despite his sky-high potential, he's already prepared to contribute in the Major Leagues. Even though he lacks slugger size—he's only 5'11"—and even though injuries have slowed him down a bit, he still projects as a .300 hitting third baseman with a premium glove and solid base-running skills.