The Nationals’ Instructional League, an annual mini-camp for the organization’s top young minor leaguers held in Viera, Fla., began in mid-September and will wrap up in less than two weeks. Here’s a quick synopsis of what’s been happening, with help from Nationals director of player development Doug Harris. >>> First-round pick Anthony Rendon has been mostly sitting out during games and instead is building arm strength and refining his throwing mechanics with Nationals infielder coordinator Jeff Garber, the same coach who helped Ryan Zimmerman rework his form. Rendon, the sixth overall pick, has thrown very little over the past year because of a strain to a muscle in the back of his shoulder. Rendon has healed and the Nationals do not consider the injury an issue moving forward. But Rendon needs repetition to recapture his throwing mechanics. “It’s like spring training for him,” Harris said. It’s something to watch, but the Nationals do not seem alarmed at this point.
>>> Left-handed pitcher Matt Purke, the other high Nationals draft pick with recent injury concerns, has been throwing without any out-of-the-ordinary restrictions. “He’s throwing the ball really well,” Harris said. The Nationals selected Purke with the 97th overall pick and signed him to a major league contract.
>>> Harris has been impressed with the overall ability level in Viera. “The talent from two years ago to now, it’s unbelievably different,” Harris said. “We’re much more physical, much more athletic.” In years past, the Nationals were thin at several affiliates. After the last few draft classes, “we’ve really got to have to be real creative in carving out opportunities for some of these guys.”
>>> When asked for standout performers early on at the Instructional League, Harris mentioned Class A Hagerstown outfielders Michael Taylor and Kevin Keyes. Taylor, 20, has the speed to play center field and this year hit .291/.351/.498 in the second half of the season. Keyes, 22, hit 17 home runs and slugged .510 this season in 304 at-bats. Keyes dropped about 15 pounds over the course of the season. Keyes, a seventh-round pick in 2010 out of Texas, has “probably made bigger strides than anybody in the organization from last year’s draft.”
>>> As the Nationals surged in the final three weeks of their season, the minor leaguers at the Instructional League would gather around a television set at nights and watch the games. They saw players like Brad Peacock and Steve Lombardozzi who had come through the system, whom they knew from spring training. “It made it real for a lot of players,” Harris said.