The Situation: In an ironic twist, the oft-injured Anthony Rendon (Baseball Prospectus’ top Washington Nationals prospect and the 35th-rated prospect on Jason Parks’ Top 101 entering the season) has the injury of another to thank for his first taste of major-league action. Nationals All-Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Saturday for a strained left hamstring, leaving Washington with a hole to fill at the hot corner. Coming off strong showings in both the Arizona Fall League and spring training, Rendon put himself on the fast track to the Nation’s capital with a red-hot start to the 2013 season, including the most recent 10-game stretch at Double-A Harrisburg, in which he posted a triple-slash line of .333/.511/.636 while clocking in with an 11:8 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
Background: After dropping to Atlanta in the 27th round of the 2008 Draft, Rendon decided to forgo the start of his professional career in favor of three years with Coach Graham and the hometown Rice Owls. Without question the decision was a good one, as the Houston native immediately established himself as the top player in college baseball, eventually earning a major-league deal with the Washington Nationals worth $7.2 million over four years ($6 million of it in signing bonus).
Despite jaw-dropping freshman and sophomore campaigns in which he hit .391/.478/.750 with over 40 percent of his hits going for extra bases (including 46 home runs), ankle injuries at the end of each of his freshman and sophomore seasons, lingering shoulder pain entering his junior season, and an inconsistent junior year dropped the presumptive top prospect in the 2011 draft class to the Nats at sixth overall that June. Washington happily scooped up (arguably) the best talent in the draft for a third straight year (2009–Stephen Strasburg; 2010–Bryce Harper). Just days into his first minor-league season, Rendon broke his left ankle (previous ankle injuries were on the right side), and he was limited to just 133 at-bats after returning to action late last summer. Fast forward a mere eight months (and 65 additional regular-season plate appearances) and Rendon finds himself heading the Big Apple to meet up with the big club for the Nats/Mets series finale.
Scouting Report: While Rendon’s on-field performance from the Arizona Fall League through spring training and the start of the 2013 season highlights his immense upside, it is important to note that the string of serious injuries has in fact impacted his overall profile. A formerly above-average runner, Rendon now rates as below-average on the bad side of three serious ankle injuries, and he has seen a slight dip in his first-step quickness at third. Further, his arm strength has yet to return to its 6+ rating prior to the shoulder strains that limited him primarily to designated hitting duties in his final year at Rice (now rating as average or slightly above).
What does remain, however, is his 7/5+ hit/power profile at the plate, as well as his plus hands in the field. Rendon has a keen eye at the plate and excels at selective aggression, drawing a plethora of free passes while uncorking incredible bat speed on balls left in the hit zone. His advanced pitch identification and elite bat speed allow Rendon to utilize the whole field—a talent that largely drives his impressive hit tool and in-game power utility. It has yet to be determined if Rendon’s power will manifest itself at the major-league level in over-the-fence pop, or closer to average home run totals with a boatload of doubles. Either way, he fits in the middle of a major-league order long term, and along with Harper could be part of one of the best offensive duos in the game for the foreseeable future.
Immediate Big-League Future: Rendon would not be in Washington if the Nats weren’t planning on giving him the lion’s share of the time at third base while Zimmerman is out. Given the nature of hamstring injuries, Rendon’s stay in Washington could be most appropriately measured in days or weeks, depending on how Zimmerman’s leg reacts to the rest. Rendon is ready to be an everyday third baseman and should provide a quality glove immediately upon arrival.
The extent of Rendon’s offensive contributions will depend on his ability to adjust to major-league sequencing and the daily challenge of facing pitchers who can rapidly adjust to exploit the weaknesses of opposing hitters. His advanced approach and quick hands should be a valuable asset in this endeavor, and the fact that the Nats deem him ready to contribute after less than half a full season in the minors (just 181 at-bats and 225 plate appearances over 57 games) speaks volumes about their confidence in the budding star. —Nick J. Faleris
Fantasy Impact: All right, this is one of the exciting ones. The only thing that has held Rendon back from being an elite prospect so far in his career has been health, and right now he is healthy. And if it sounds familiar that an injury to Ryan Zimmerman would bring up the Nationals’ top position prospect, it should—we saw the same thing happen last year. Rendon is not the prospect that Bryce Harper was (who is?), but he still has the potential to make an immediate impact.
While it’s hard to see how the Nats will keep Rendon in the majors once Zimmerman returns, they’re going to have a tough time sending him down if he hits right away. And Rendon has the best possible combination of skills to be successful right away—a great approach at the plate and a hit tool to match. In fact, through 65 plate appearances in Double-A, he has 14 walks and nine strikeouts. He’s also hitting .292 with a couple of homers. Rendon can hit for power and average right now, and he certainly has the potential to be a top-15 third baseman for as long as he’s up.
In the near term, Rendon is worth owning in nearly all leagues—although you’re not going to want to drop someone whom you may need in two weeks if Rendon ends up back in the minors. For example, I tried to pick him up in the Razzball Experts League (12-team mixed) and was prepared to drop Evan Gattis for him, but another owner beat me to it by around 15 minutes. In NL-only leagues, he’s worth a sizable FAAB bid given both his short-term potential and the Nats’ clear willingness to go to him. I’d go up to around 25 percent of your budget if you need help at the position. In dynasty/keeper formats, he’s well worth an add and a waiver claim everywhere (unless you’re sitting on the no. 1 spot awaiting Jurickson Profar or Oscar Taveras). This is a future all-star, if he can stay healthy. —Bret Sayre