X

Anthony Rendon Will Replace Bryce Harper as Face of Franchise's Future in 2015

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 22:  Anthony Rendon #6 of the Washington Nationals celebrates scoring teams fourth run on a wild pitch in the eighth inning during a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves on June 22, 2014 at Nationals Park in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

With all the attention being heaped on the Washington Nationals' new super-rotation, it's easy to forget there's a young Nats position player with "future superstar" written all over him.

No, not Bryce Harper, though the brash, big-swinging former No. 1 pick remains an indelible part of the picture in the nation's capital.

We're talking about Anthony Rendon, who quietly put together a breakout 2014 campaign and looks poised to claim the franchise-player mantle.

If he does, expect humility. "He's not walking around with his chest puffed out, he's doing things the right way," shortstop Ian Desmond said of his young teammate in 2012, the year after Rendon was drafted, per The Washington Times' Amanda Comak. 

Rendon may not possess Harper's notorious swagger, but last season's stats demand notice: a .287/.351/.473 slash line, 21 home runs, 17 stolen bases and a National League-leading 111 runs scored.

If you like WAR, Rendon's 6.4 was the second-best mark among NL infielders, per Baseball-Reference. Not coincidentally, he finished fifth in MVP voting.

Oh, and he's still four months shy of his 25th birthday. 

Here's how Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels, who has tangled plenty with Rendon in the NL East, breaks it down, per Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post:

He's a very, very impressive player. I put him up with the [Troy] Tulowitzkis and the David Wrights when they first came up, those impact players you don’t normally see at such a young age. You know they're only going to get better, and you’re like, 'Great.' He’s that type of guy—one of those superstars that’s going to be around forever.

What about Ryan Zimmerman, who Rendon replaced at third base last season when the 30-year-old former All-Star went down with a broken thumb?

No worries; Zimmerman is ready to pass the baton and slide across the diamond to first, plugging the hole left by departed free-agent Adam LaRoche. 

"You got a guy, moving forward, that’s going to play third," Zimmerman told Kilgore of his heir apparent.

Last season was Rendon's first full year in the big leagues. As good as he was, it's worth wondering if a semi-sophomore slump is in the offing. MLB pitchers tend to adjust.

Here's Kilgore, addressing that very point:

Rendon's quick bat has led opponents on an impossible search. They have tried to pitch him in every way since he debuted early in 2013, and every approach has failed. He can rifle inside fastballs down the left field line. He can be fooled by off-speed pitches and still hook them over the fence. He can shoot outside pitches into the right-center field gap.

A flawless hitter? Of course not. Just because no one has found a weakness yet doesn't mean they'll stop trying. 

But these sorts of accolades—from teammates and opponents alike—aren't tossed around lightly. They have to be earned. 

None of this is to discount Harper. Yes, the left-handed swinging outfielder had his struggles in 2014, finishing with career-lows in home runs (13), RBI (32) and OPS (.768) as he battled a thumb injury.

Don't forget, though: At the tender age of 22, Harper already has a pair of All-Star appearances and a Rookie of the Year Award under his belt.

Bryce Harper had his worst big-league season in 2014 as he fought through a thumb injury.
Bryce Harper had his worst big-league season in 2014 as he fought through a thumb injury.Ben Margot/Associated Press/Associated Press

If anything, Rendon's ascent speaks to how loaded the Nationals are as they charge into 2015 with the best rotation in baseball and a balanced lineup populated by a mix of rising stars and seasoned vets.

This is a club with legitimate championship aspirations that transcend any one player. 

Until recently, though, if you asked your average baseball fan (or analyst) to name the face of the Nationals, they'd have conjured Harper's hirsute mug before Rendon's.

Some still might; Rendon isn't shouting for attention. His play, on the other hand, speaks volumes.

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.