Anthony Rendon, the Nationals’ first draft pick last year, walked into a major league clubhouse as a player for the first time today. “This is crazy,” he thought. To him, his days playing high school ball seemed like they just ended.
Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo had said since the Nationals signed Rendon that he would start his career exclusively as a third baseman, no matter that the Nationals had Ryan Zimmerman established there. But when Rendon met with Manager Davey Johnson this morning, Johnson had other plans. Johnson told Rendon he would bounce around the infield, playing third base, second base and shortstop.
Rendon arrived early to his first spring training in order to soak everything in. But the Nationals also told him to show up before position players had to officially report, partly in order to work on the other infield positions.
Johnson told Rendon “he wanted to work on my footwork at second base before I go out there, because it’s a different world on that side of the infield,” Rendon said.
Rendon is comfortable in the middle of the infield, having played some second base at Rice and shortstop as he grew up. He was deferential to Zimmerman, saying he’d gladly play elsewhere to accommodate the Nationals’ best player.
“Oh, yeah, sure, he’s going to be here a long time, I’m pretty sure,” Rendon said. “He’s an all-star. He’s a great player. I’m not coming here to take anything away from him. He’s set in stone. I’m not trying to ruin that.”
Most important, Rendon arrived healthy. When the Nationals drafted him last year, he was coming off a junior season in which he primarily played designated hitter because of a muscle strain in the back of his right (throwing) shoulder. The Nationals held him out of the Arizona Fall League in order to put him on a shoulder-strengthening program with a trainer and infield coordinator Jeff Garber.
Rendon has been hitting and throwing without issue in his shoulder for a while this offseason, and he’ll have no restrictions as the spring begins.
“I’ve been doing that in the offseason,” Rendon said. “I know I’m capable of doing everything right now, because that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Rendon may be part of major league camp, a designation he earned only by signing a major league contract out of the draft last year. But he knows he will begin his first professional season in the minors, perhaps Class A Potomac. His outlook could not be more different than the Nationals’ first pick in last year’s camp, Bryce Harper. Rendon’s primary goal this spring is to learn. His second is not to stand out.
“I feel like I’m a freshman back at Rice,” Rendon said. “I’m just going to be like a fly on the wall, see what everybody else does, see what I’m supposed to do, what I’m not supposed to do. I just want to be a fly on the wall, try to learn all these new ways.
“I’m more reserved. There’s a really high chance I’m not going to make this team. I’m not like, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m shooting to try to go straight to the bigs.’ I’m going to take my time and try to get used to this lifestyle.”