Rendon's bat could force tough call

Nats' third-base prospect ready to diversify to make Majors

By Jonathan Raymond / Special to | April 4, 2012 1:47 PM ET

League Preview Anthony Rendon came out of Rice University as the most heralded college hitter in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. A Golden Spikes semifinalist, Rendon was viewed as the sort of polished bat that could quickly rise through the Nationals system and make it to the Major Leagues in a hurry.

The only small thing standing in the way in Washington would be Ryan Zimmerman -- and his six-year, $100 million extension -- firmly in place at third.

The general consensus has been that the Nationals will look for another position for Rendon, the sixth overall pick in 2011, in an effort to find a place for him to play on the same diamond with Zimmerman -- most likely second base.

But for now, that looks like a bridge the Nationals will choose to cross when they get to it. Rendon,'s No. 27 prospect, expects to start his first professional season at the same position he became known for at Rice -- third base.

Still, that doesn't mean the 21-year-old isn't prepared to diversify his offerings to get on the fast track to the Majors.

"Growing up I was never the biggest kid on the field, so they always had me at second base, shortstop," Rendon said. "I played those as a little kid all through high school. I played all the infield positions, actually. It wasn't until college that I finally made the transition [to third].

"As long as I have that bat in my hands, I'd be happy to play anywhere."

That bat is, after all, why the Nationals placed such a premium on him, drafting Rendon sixth overall last June. And with that bat, it's likely he'll quickly move along -- regardless of position.

Rendon, who hit .371 with 52 home runs in three seasons at Rice, got his first taste of professional pitching this spring, and his Potomac manager, Brian Rupp, said he looked like he'll be able to handle the transition with ease.

"He's very, very good. He can hit a fastball, showed great patience, can drive the ball to the gaps," Rupp said. "He looked real good, absolutely. [Defensively] he needs to polish up on some fundamentals, but he's very gifted athletically."

Rendon, for his part, said he enjoyed being in front of live pitching again and is ready to meet the challenge of his first professional season.

"They throw a lot more strikes here than in college," he said. "If they throw a curveball here, they really hit their spots. I enjoyed it.

"I've felt awesome, felt like I have a great swing, like I did pretty well. For not seeing a lot of pitching the last nine to 10 months, I feel pretty confident coming into the season."

Defensively, Rendon said he worked on his footwork this spring, a tool that would aid him just about anywhere around the infield. Rupp said that if the time does come for a position switch, he didn't think it would be hard to get an athlete as naturally talented as Rendon up to speed pretty quickly.

"You just have to go back to square one," Rupp said. "Especially with a middle infield position, where you have to learn the double play, and it's a bit harder at second with your back to the runner.

"You make sure they know the basics of the position and then you add a bit more here and there. Then it's kind of like you crawl, walk and then run."

With his profile and tools, it wouldn't surprise anyone if Rendon gets up and running soon.

Hot, hot corner: Rendon won't be the only third baseman to watch in the Carolina League this year. The hot corner may be the league's deepest position, with Cheslor Cuthbert at Wilmington, Edward Salcedo at Lynchburg and Jason Esposito at Frederick pulling up behind Rendon.

The Blue Rocks' Cuthbert represents the best of the rest. Last season he hit .267 with a .345 on-base percentage and eight home runs as an 18-year-old, earning the distinction as Kansas City's No. 5 prospect. With a little more progression, the 2009 signee out of Nicaragua could be a Top 100 candidate come this time next season.

Esposito, an Orioles prospect, is also his system's No. 5 prospect after being selected in the second round last June. The former Vanderbilt star is another polished athlete, as evidenced by the Orioles' decision to start him at the Class A Advanced level. He hit .340 with nine home runs in his junior season with the Commodores and will join Jonathan Schoop and Tyler Townsend in Frederick's talented infield.

Atlanta, meanwhile, has high hopes for Salcedo, their No. 10 prospect, after signing him out of the Dominican Republic in 2010. He flashed both power and speed last year in the South Atlantic League, hitting .248 with 12 home runs and 23 stolen bases in 132 games for Rome.

Lynchburg move on the horizon?: One thing to keep an eye on as the season moves along will be the development of the future of the Lynchburg Hillcats franchise.

An Atlanta Braves affiliate only since the beginning of the 2011 season, Lynchburg could be in for a relocation to an as-yet-constructed stadium in Wilmington, N.C. In February the Braves, who own their other Minor League affiliates, reached an understanding to buy the Hillcats and bring them to Wilmington.

According to the Wilmington Star-News, the city has until July 31 to investigate the cost of the stadium, potential locations and public support for backing what is expected to be a roughly $40 million project.

The Braves, for their part, have assured the Lynchburg Baseball Corp. that they'll aid in attracting another affiliated Minor League franchise to Lynchburg as part of the deal.

The Hillcats' player development contract with Atlanta runs through 2014. If all goes according to plan, that would likely be the time the Braves move their Carolina League affiliate south to Wilmington and another franchise sets up shop in Lynchburg.

Carolina on my mind: The Carolina Mudcats will play their inaugural Carolina League season in 2012, but it's not quite as straight-forward as it seems.

The Mudcats, now a Cleveland Indians affiliate, played in the Southern League last year under the parent Reds. They were replaced there by the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Making room for the Mudcats in the Carolina League were the Kinston Indians, a now-defunct franchise who had a enjoyed continuous run of more than 30 years in the circuit.

Suiting up for the latest incarnation of the Mudcats will be the pairing of Tony Wolters and Ronny Rodriguez in the middle infield. The duo, Cleveland's No. 4 and No. 6 prospects, respectively, represent two of the best in a system loaded with middle infield prospects and will be closely monitored by the Indians throughout the year.

Last things last: Here's a look at some significant lasts around the Carolina League.

  • Last season's championship: Frederick over Kinston in four games Coverage »
  • Last back-to-back champion: Myrtle Beach, 1999-2000 (co-champions with Wilmington in 1999)
  • Last 20-inning game: Kinston 3, Myrtle Beach 2, June 12, 2011 (23 innings, Carolina League record) Coverage »
  • Last perfect game: Keith Ramsey, Kinston vs. Myrtle Beach, Sept. 6, 2004
  • Last no-hitter: Marty Popham, Chris Jones and Cory Burns, Kinston vs. Potomac, Sept. 5, 2010 Coverage »
  • Last 200-strikeout pitcher: Joel Bennett, Lynchburg, 1993 (221)
  • Last cycle: Brandon Allen, Winston-Salem vs. Lynchburg, May 14, 2008 Coverage »
  • Last three-homer game: John Shelby, Winston-Salem vs. Wilmington, May 3, 2008 Coverage »
  • Last 30-homer hitter: Ian Gac, Winston-Salem, 2011 (33)
  • Last 50-double hitter: Joey Terdoslavic, Lynchburg, 2011 (52) Coverage »

Jonathan Raymond is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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