Updated, 10:47 a.m.
Anthony Rendon, the Nationals’ top overall prospect, and Matt Skole, the organization’s top slugging prospect, were among the cuts from major league camp Thursday morning, trimming the number of players in spring training to 42. Both were expected moves, as both players, while impressing the team with their ability and talent, still need experience. Both head to minor league camp.
Infielder Will Rhymes and left-hander Patrick McCoy were re-assigned to minor league camp. Right-hander Nate Karns, the organization’s reigning minor league pitcher of the year, and top catching prospect Sandy Leon were optioned to Harrisburg, and outfield prospect Eury Perez was optioned to Class AAA Syracuse. Rhymes, who signed a minor league deal this winter, does not have an opt-clause in his contract and will head to Syracuse.
It was already known that Rendon had no chance to break camp with the Nationals this spring, and optioning him now allows him to get ready in minor league camp to start the season at Harrisburg. Skole, the Nationals reigning minor league player of the year, will also join him in Harrisburg.
“They had great spring, impressed a lot of people,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “I think that’s what they came down here to do. They certainly did that. Getting them out of here so it takes the pressure off the guys I got here,” he added with a laugh.
Rendon, 22, only played 43 games last season, his first in professional baseball, after fracturing his ankle in the second game of the season with Class A Potomac. The infielder, whose natural position is third base, played all over the diamond this spring, and will do the same in Harrisburg. Johnson liked Rendon’s flashes at shortstop and “he passed the test for me as far as his footwork at second.”
Rendon was one of the most impressive hitters in major league camp, posting a triple slash line of .375/.412/.875 in 13 games and smacking four home runs with 11 RBI. If Rendon stays healthy this season, a September call-up to the majors is likely.
“What he showed us this spring is kinda a continuation of his progression,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “We’ve seen and liked this guy since he was a freshman at Rice. He’s polished up his skills a little bit, he’s playing really well defensively, his arm, as you’ve seen, is healthy and back to above average. And he’s got a great baseball IQ and knows how to play the game. The tool that jumps out at you is that he can hit and can hit with power.”
Skole, 23, saw time at both first and third base, and the Nationals will try him at first base for the time in the minors this season. His athleticism for a big-framed hitter was impressive and his raw power was also a highlight of camp. In 14 games, he posted a line of .250/.406/.333. Karns, 25, was limited to only 3 2/3 innings this spring because of a tight right leg. This upcoming season will be his first unrestricted one since shoulder surgery and the Nationals want him to build a bodywork as a starter.
“I think it’s important for them to get a taste of it, for them to take back with them to the minor leagues the flavor of spring training, how these guys prepare and what it take to be ready to play full 162-game season,” Rizzo said.