As the Nationals placed Bryce Harper on the disabled list and await word on the strained oblique of ace Stephen Strasburg, they promoted top prospect Anthony Rendon to Class AAA Syracuse, where he will play both third base and second base.
Rendon, widely regarded as one of the top 30 prospects in baseball, has played five games at second base this year at Class AA Harrisburg. The Nationals will continue to play Rendon in a “rotation” between second and third, director of player development Doug Harris said. But they seem to intent on playing Rendon at second base more extensively at Syracuse; he was in the lineup at second base Saturday night.
“I don’t know that it’s going to be a hard-and-fast 50-50,” Harris said. “But we want to expose him to some different game situations that he hasn’t been exposed to. There might be a week where he plays more at third than at second. And there might be a week where it’s vice-versa. ”
The Nationals’ decision to play Rendon more often at second is particularly compelling because of the struggles of Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa. As Espinosa has played with a tear in his left rotator cuff and a bone chip in his right wrist, he has hit .164/.195/.283 and has zero extra-base hits in his last 51 plate appearances. If the Nationals decide Espinosa will not be able to turn his season around, Rendon could become another option beside backup Steve Lombardozzi as an option to replace him.
The Nationals promoted Rendon with the idea of fine-tuning his hitting ability for the major league level. Rendon has been dominant in his 116 at-bats at Harrisburg, hitting .319/.461/.603. At Syracuse, Rendon will play for Manager Tony Beasley, a long-time infield coach. Nationals infield coordinator Jeff Garber is also currently at Syracuse.
“It’s an opportunity to have him be around players who have had a lot of major league experience in different ways,” Harris said. “There’s a different maturity in the clubhouse. The biggest thing is, you have pitchers in that league, particularly this time of year, who can attack a hitter and execute based on a weaknesses.”
Rendon has little professional or college experience at second, but Manager Davey Johnson has worked with him one-on-one on second base drills the past two spring trainings. His exceptionally quick hands and noteworthy instincts have convinced the Nationals he could play any infield position. Rendon has fractured both of his ankles, the only hang-up to him playing a position susceptible to base runners sliding into his vulnerable legs.
“Even though I gave him kind of a crash course in the spring on footwork, that’s not something where you want to put somebody over there who’s unfamiliar with doing the footwork around the bag because you don’t want him to get injured,” Johnson said. “Beasley knows his way around the bag real well and he’ll be able to help him. So if he is playing down there in games, he’s not going to be at risk.”
In an eight-game major league cameo at third base this season with Ryan Zimmerman on the disabled list, Rendon swatted six hits, including a double, and drew five walks in 30 plate appearances. The Nationals drafted Rendon with the sixth overall pick in 2011 and signed him with a signing bonus and major league contract worth a total of $7.2 million. He is already on their 40-man roster.