Anthony Rendon has been one of the most impressive players in Nationals camp so far, a composed, sweet-swinging hitter with famously quick wrists and a bright future. At the plate, hitting looks so easy for the Nationals’ top prospect. He is 7 for 16 (.438) with three doubles, two home runs and seven RBI in seven spring training games. Though the 22-year-old won’t make the opening day roster because Nationals officials want him to get the at-bats he missed in the minor leagues because of a broken ankle, team officials have been wowed by his stroke — the one that convinced them to draft him with the sixth overall pick in 2011 out of Rice.
So how, exactly, does he do it? There’s one aspect of Rendon’s swing that has been on display this spring: his ability to put backspin on the baseball to give it extra carry as it spins through the air. Against Atlanta Braves right-hander Juan Jaime last week, Rendon smacked a double to the left field wall that appeared to rise through the air. That is a trait seen more often among veterans and rarely in players of his age.
Rendon said he learned how to hit balls with backspin when he was 11 or 12 years old growing up Houston under the tutelage of then-travel baseball team coach Willie Ansley, a former Astros farmhand who has worked with him since.
“I was fortunate enough to have a great coach and that’s all he taught, you gotta focus on that,” Rendon said. “And that’s one thing he learned when he was playing that he didn’t really find out until later in his career. So he passed it down to me.”
Rendon took to Ansley’s backspin philosophy because of his small stature. As a sophomore in high school, he was only 5-foot-4 and 103 pounds. “That’s all I tried to do. I was a small kid so I needed as much help as I could get,” he said, laughing.
Rendon, who is 6-foot, 195 pounds, tried recently to explain, in detail, how he hits the ball like that — but he could only do so in broad terms. It’s been a natural part of his swing for so long he can’t quite put it into words. “You try and hit a little bit center, a little bit on top and hitting down. It’s hard to explain,” he said.
Whether it’s a fastball or offspeed pitch or he wants to drive the ball to left field or right, Rendon tries to hit the ball with backspin, driving the bat down.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I try to barrel the ball up, but I guess that’s just part of my swing now. I just try to make it as much natural as I can.”