Rendon has memorable Draft experience
Third baseman celebrates 21st birthday following selection
As the reporters and television cameramen left R Room at Rice Stadium one after another, Anthony Rendon was left standing among family and friends, anxious to kick off the second celebration set for Monday night: the acknowledgment of his 21st birthday.
The blue icing on the staid white cake put the evening's events in their proper context. "Happy Birthday & Congratulations Anthony," it read before the man of the hour did the honors and doled out the first slice.
An hour earlier the R Room was pulsing with nervous anticipation as Rendon, projected by many as the top prospect coming into the 2011 season, slid past the Mariners at No. 2 before being selected by the Washington Nationals at sixth overall in the First-Year Player Draft.
Rendon, as is his custom, disarmed any controversy with perspective.
"That big? I went sixth overall," Rendon said with an incongruous chuckle, referencing whether his strained right shoulder resulted in his freefall on Draft boards. "It didn't matter to me if I went one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 13th or 30th. It didn't matter to me.
"I feel awesome. I came to Rice and it's been a great experience. That was my main goal, to improve my Draft stock. Anything before the 27th round -- that's when I was drafted after high school -- that's a plus for me. So I'm happy."
The question is what position will he play if he signs? The Nationals already have a third baseman for years to come in Ryan Zimmerman, so there is a strong possibility that Rendon could be switched to second or first base. The Nationals have not solidified their plans yet but feel that Rendon is on the fast track to the big leagues.
"Right now, we feel that third base is his position," general manager Mike Rizzo said of Rendon. "We evaluate him as a Gold Glove-caliber defensive guy at third base. We are going to delay that decision [as far as making a position switch]. We'll make that decision down the road.
"I think he is a terrifically polished college player. I think he will be a quick-to-the-big-leagues type of guy, as far as the normal course of a drafted player. But we are not going to put any stipulations or timetables like that. We really feel good about this player. This is a guy that we had at the top of our draft board for a long time.
|1||PIT||RHP Gerrit Cole|
|2||SEA||LHP Danny Hultzen|
|3||ARI||RHP Trevor Bauer|
|4||BAL||RHP Dylan Bundy|
|5||KC||OF Bubba Starling|
|6||WAS||3B Anthony Rendon|
|7||ARI||RHP Archie Bradley|
|8||CLE||SS Francisco Lindor|
|9||CHC||SS Javier Baez|
|10||SD||2B Cory Spangenberg|
|11||HOU||OF George Springer|
|12||MIL||RHP Taylor Jungmann|
|13||NYM||OF Brandon Nimmo|
|14||FLA||RHP Jose Fernandez|
|15||MIL||LHP Jed Bradley|
|16||LAD||LHP Chris Reed|
|17||LAA||1B C.J. Cron|
|18||OAK||RHP Sonny Gray|
|19||BOS||RHP Matt Barnes|
|20||COL||LHP Tyler Anderson|
|21||TOR||RHP Tyler Beede|
|22||STL||2B Kolten Wong|
|23||WAS||RHP Alex Meyer|
|24||TB||RHP Taylor Guerrieri|
|25||SD||RHP Joe Ross|
|26||BOS||C Blake Swihart|
|27||CIN||RHP Robert Stephenson|
|28||ATL||LHP Sean Gilmartin|
|29||SF||SS Joe Panik|
|30||MIN||SS Levi Michael|
|31||TB||OF Mikie Mahtook|
|32||TB||SS Jake Hager|
|33||TEX||LHP Kevin Matthews|
There is a sense of irony in that Rendon, who did not miss a start over three seasons at Rice, suffered due to injury concerns. His right ankle has been surgically repaired twice, once after earning National Freshman of the Year honors in 2009 and again following a spectacular sophomore campaign that yielded the Howser Trophy as the National Player of the Year. This season a right shoulder muscle strain limited Rendon to eight starts in the field, including just six at third base, the position where he started his first 124 games with Rice. Nevertheless, Rendon made 55 starts at designated hitter, and despite the injury distractions and Draft hoopla, he produced a batting line of .327/.520/.523 with six homers, 37 RBIs, 112 total bases and a nation-leading 80 walks.
Despite the fact that these statistics paled in comparison to the numbers he produced over the first two seasons -- a .391/.497/.750 batting line with 46 homers and 157 RBIs, the Nationals were not deterred by injury concerns.
"We got all the medical reports and films, our doctors have gone over them painstakingly, and we feel good about it," Rizzo said.
Rendon had heard all the speculation that, even with the concerns about his shoulder, he wouldn't last beyond the Mariners, who picked second. But when Seattle followed the Pirates' selection of UCLA junior right-hander Gerrit Cole by taking Virginia junior left-hander Danny Hultzen, Rendon was forced to deal with the reality that he was sliding unexpectedly. It proved to be another setback in a season full of minor inconveniences.
"I think it affected him a little bit more than us," Rendon's father Rene said of himself and his wife Bridget. "He's always done well, he's always played both sides of the field and I think it was killing him not being able to play defense, because I've always told him that he's not always going to hit. You might get into a slump, but you can always help your team defensively.
But things have a tendency to work out for Rendon. Following his breakout senior season at Houston Lamar High School, the Braves selected Rendon in the 27th round and invited him to an organizational wood bat tournament during the summer before his freshman year at Rice. Rendon made it clear that he did not want to participate unless the Braves were set to offer a bonus befitting a second-round pick, but the Braves insisted that he attend. He tore the cover off the ball and played impeccable defense over five days, but when the two sides failed to reach terms, Rendon returned home frustrated and enrolled at Rice.
Instead of settling for second-round money, Rendon is sure to sign a handsome bonus as a client of uber-agent Scott Boras.
"We lined up our six best players in the order that we thought we liked them," Rizzo said. "We were really satisfied with the top six players. We knew we were going to get a good player in the Draft, and when it was our turn to pick we had Anthony's name at the top of our list. We pulled it and we feel good about it.
"He has a terrific batting eye. He has great pitch recognition, he's a tough guy to strike out. He uses the whole field and is very balanced. He has great raw power. Along with the line-drive stroke, we feel that he is a very efficient hitter and is capable of hitting for a high average and for power."
Lost in the hysteria of the present, Rendon could not peer into his future with any amount of clarity. The Nationals selected former Rice shortstop Rick Hague with the first pick of the third round last season, and in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft tabbed outfielder J.P. Ramirez, a childhood friend of Rendon's, in the 15th round. He could play alongside old friends while ascending the organizational ladder, with the hope of joining the Nationals' infield in the not-too-distant future.
Those were thoughts for another day. There was a birthday cake to attend to and memories to share with family and friends. Falling a couple notches on the Draft board couldn't ruin this special occasion.
"This is the biggest day so far," Rendon said. "Turning 21 and getting drafted on the same day, I don't think it can get any better. I think the only thing that would trump this would probably be my wedding day when it happens."
Moisekapenda Bower is a contributor to MLB.com. Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.