Last week, one of the greatest players in Rice baseball history ended his potentially Hall of Fame big league career and will go down as one of the greatest switch hitters of all time. Lance Berkman had an amazing college career and an even better career in the Major Leagues. Anthony Rendon may have had an even better amateur career, but what can we expect from him at the professional level?
Rendon was one of the top players available in what is looking like a historic 2011 draft. He went 6th overall that year to but was rumored to have potentially gone as high as 1:1. A shoulder injury contributed to his falling to the Nationals and he's been plagued by injuries since his freshman year in college. He broke his right ankle twice and his left ankle once while in college and also missed three months with a sprained left ankle in 2012. While on the field, Rendon has lived up to his billing as a polished hitter with an advanced approach and has hit well at all levels of the minors.
After playing primarily third base in college and the minors, Rendon saw time at several spots on the diamond in 2013. He played 82 games at second base, 13 games at third base and 3 games at shortstop which may give him eligibility at several positions based on your league's rules. Third base looks to be pretty deep this year, so Rendon will more than likely slot in at second base on most teams that draft him. His profile fits best at a middle infield position and he has the potential to move to the top of second base position ranks.
Rendon is a natural hitter with an advanced approach at the plate which led to a roughly 1:1 K/BB ratio in the minors. He didn't post numbers quite as strong at the big league level but he showed some improvement in his first half versus second half splits in terms of BB% and K%. Rendon employs a line drive swing and peppers the ball to all fields. Most of his home run power is to his pull side and some scouts believe he will hit more than twenty homers a year at his peak. In order to fulfill that potential, Rendon may have to sacrifice some of his line drive approach. Last year four of the seven home runs he hit were categorized as "Just Enough" by ESPN's Hit Tracker. To the same point, the average elevation angle of his home runs was 28.3 degrees where most home runs fall somewhere between 25 and 45 degrees. Rendon will need to add some loft to hit swing and increase his fly ball percentage (33.9% in 2013) to match the power of those at the top of the position.
Rendon looks to be the starting second baseman for the Nationals on Opening Day and should be hitting in a very strong lineup. He will probably slot in at the bottom third of the lineup which will limit his plate appearances relative to other second baseman who bat higher in the order and will more-than-likely limit his RBI and run scoring chances. He may see slightly fewer pitches to hit if he's batting in front of the pitcher but studies have shown that lineup protection does not, for lack of a better word, exist so it's not something I would really consider when evaluating Rendon. I don't foresee it happening, but it's worth noting that Danny Espinosa will serve as a utility player for the Nationals this year. While last season was brutal for him, he's only a year removed from a couple of double digit home run/steal seasons and is an above average defender. If things don't go well for Rendon or if he gets hurt, there's a chance he could head back to the minors to get things worked out.
I think Rendon is going to be a very good hitter and top second baseman in time. I think he will be overdrafted this season and would caution owners about taking him too early as he may take another year or so before he really jumps up in the position ranks.