Limited to only 44 games last season after suffering an ankle fracture in his second professional game, Anthony Rendon resuscitated his prospect stock this spring with an excellent showing in major league camp.
Appearing in 13 games, the 22-year-old batted .375/.412/.875 with four doubles and four home runs and received extensive playing time at the hot corner. More importantly, Rendon asserted that, despite his limited experience, his bat was close to being ready for the major leagues. However, with Ryan Zimmerman blocking his path, it was widely known that only an injury could get Rendon to the majors before September.
Unfortunately, the Rendon insurance policy came into play far earlier than expected this season, as the Nationals were forced to call up their top prospect from Double-A after placing Zimmerman on the 15-day disabled list for a strained left hamstring.
Luckily, among all position prospects, Rendon stands a legitimate chance at succeeding in the major leagues and is a viable replacement for their All-Star third baseman. A right-hander, Rendon is one of the purest hitters in the minor leagues with a chance to have a legitimate plus hit tool. Thanks to advanced pitch recognition and plate discipline that’s already better than that of most big leaguers, he’s able to track the ball deep in the zone and coax his share of walks. More significantly, he’s adept at working deep counts and employs a patient but aggressive approach.
The only real question mark in Rendon's offensive profile is in regards to his power frequency. Given his injury history and brief minor league track record, the 22-year-old has yet to tap into his above-average raw power. However, as he settles in at the dish—regardless of the level—his outstanding bat speed and ability to use the entire field should result in more balls that clear more fences.
Although he projects to be an average defender at the hot corner, Rendon is a shell of the athlete he was at Rice. Over the past four years, he’s suffered a right shoulder injury and three separate ankle injuries—all serious and involving both ankles—that have severely limited his range and overall quickness. And while his arm strength remains more than enough for the position, he doesn’t boast the plus arm that he did just a few years ago.
While few question the impact he can make if fully healthy, it’s difficult to project his potential long-term production. That said, when comparing Rendon to other major leaguers—past or present—it makes sense to take a conservative route, as there’s no telling how his body will hold up as he ages.
Using Baseball-Reference.com’s tremendous Play Index tool, I did a search dating back to 1987 (25 years) for third basemen that had at least one season with a .250/.340/.420 triple-slash line. After discarding high-profile players such as Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones and David Wright, I was left with a list of realistic comparisons.
162-Game Average: .284/.339/.426, 74 R, 35 2B, 13 HR, 79/46 K/BB
Career WAR: 21.1
Over the course of his 12-year career with five different organizations, Randa posted a very respectable .284/.339/.426 triple-slash line while accumulating a 21.1 WAR. In his six seasons with the Royals (1999-2004), Randa was one of the more consistent and undervalued third basemen in the game, as he amassed 197 doubles and 79 home runs and reached base at a favorable clip thanks to above-average plate discipline and knack for contact.
162-Game Average: .274/.336/.443, 85 R, 33 2B, 21 HR, 131/57 K/BB
Career WAR: 34.3
Fryman feasted on American League Central pitching over his 13-year career, as he spent eight seasons with the Tigers before finishing his career in Cleveland. A six-time All-Star, he hit at least 30 doubles and 20 home runs in a season on six occasions. However, relative to some of the other names on this list, Fryman was more of a free-swinger than Rendon should be during his career, as he amassed 1,369 strikeouts in 1,698 career games.
In my opinion, his defensive profile at third base—he also logged 339 games at shortstop—is the most comparable to Rendon’s. While both players possess only average range at best, they make up for their shortcomings with instinctual actions, soft hands and an above-average arm.
162-Game Average: .279/.342/.464, 40 2B, 23 HR, 83/55 K/BB
Career WAR: 24.8
Lowell could be viewed as the ceiling comparison, as his contact rate and power frequency was better than what should be expected from Rendon. Over his 13-year career in the major leagues, Lowell batted .279/.342/.464 with 394 doubles, 223 home runs and an impressive 817/548 K/BB.
During his time with the Marlins from 1999-2005, he was one of the better third basemen in the game and appeared in three consecutive All-Star games. While his defense was always excellent at the hot corner, Lowell received his only Golden Glove award in 2005.
Although he did post a WAR of 5.0 on one occasion (2007), Lowell’s average WAR was more in the 2.7-3.2 range, which is a reasonable expectation for Rendon.