Anthony Rendon has played second base for almost four months, and he admits it still does not quite feel natural yet. “I wouldn’t say fully comfortable, but you know, I’m coming around,” Rendon said. “I’m trying to feel comfortable each day.”
The Nationals have many options with their infield next season. They could trade Adam LaRoche and move Ryan Zimmerman to first base, which seems unlikely after Zimmerman’s throwing improvement late in the season. Danny Espinosa has drawn trade interest and could be dealt this winter, but he remains in the Nationals’ mix.
The most likely option, for now, seems to be Rendon returning as the Nationals’ opening day second baseman. Can he make the transition from infielder playing second base to second baseman in full? Manager Davey Johnson believes he may already be there.
“He was further along than I thought he was going to be,” Johnson said. “His footwork was really good around the bag. He’s still learning a little bit about positioning. He’s a good second baseman. I would classify him as a little above average. Good hands. He’s got a good future. He’s a big leaguer at second.”
Advanced statistical measures validate Johnson’s opinion. Thirty-nine major leagues have played at least 350 innings at second base this season. Rendon ranks 14th among them with a 4.8 UZR/150, the metric FanGraphs.com uses to measure how many runs a defender saves over average per 150 games. (Danny Espinosa ranks sixth with 11.8.)
Rendon has learned on the fly in the majors. This spring training, Johnson gave Rendon a few one-on-one tutorials on a side field. Rendon played eight games at second base – five at Class AA Harrisburg and three at Class AAA Syracuse – before the Nationals summoned him to the majors to replace Espinosa, whose dreadful offense had become untenable.
Last night, Rendon showcased some of his improvement. He dove to his backhand to snare a sharply hit grounder, which momentarily kept alive Jordan Zimmermann’s chance at a no-hitter. He made a few other slick players going to his left, too.
The Nationals selected Rendon, 23, with the sixth overall pick in 2011 and brought him to the majors for his bat. After a hot start, Rendon is hitting .263/.326/.397. He has been about a league average hitter, and Johnson sees a bright future once he adapts to how major league pitchers attack him. Johnson believes he can hit 15 to 20 homers per season with a bunch of doubles.
“You go through the league, and with all the technology, everybody has a pretty good scouting report on you, how to set you up and how to pitch to you,” Johnson said. “He’s making some adjustments. I think he’s only made just tip-of-the-iceberg adjustments. He’ll know more about how to handle a lot of things as his career goes on.”