Entering spring training, Anthony Rendon is in an unusual position. He played three games at Class AAA Syracuse before he was thrust into the majors and asked to play second base daily — all while learning the intricacies of a new position. He produced a .725 OPS and 99 OPS+, respectable marks for a rookie who had only played 57 games of professional baseball before reaching the highest level. While his defense may not have been as strong as his predecessor, Rendon was an upgrade from a slumping Danny Espinosa.
Yet, as he enters his first full spring training as a major leaguer, the 23-year-old Rendon is facing competition for his position. Competition is healthy, as Manager Matt Williams has said. And only four-plus months in the majors isn’t enough to cement a job. Rendon is the starting second baseman entering camp — but it is his job to lose. And Espinosa, as has been much debated, will be given a fair chance to win his old job back.
Rendon is approaching it all with the same laid-back, relaxed attitude that he displays on the field.
“I’m just going in just like every other year, work hard, do my own thing and try to win some ballgames and we’ll see how it goes,” he said recently at NatsFest. “It’s not my decision in the end. If they feel that I can help the team, then it’s going to be me. If not, I’ll be cheering on the other teammates.”
Rendon does have a leg up on his competition. His posted a .265/.329/.396 triple slash line. When he returned to the Nationals in June to man second base daily, he was the Nationals’ best hitter for over a month, posting a .842 in those 35 games before he production slipped. His seven home runs in 2013 reinforced what the Nationals believed about him: that Rendon, for a guy generously listed at 6-f00t, 195 pounds, has power and could grow into more. While learning on the fly and receiving constant feedback from former second baseman Davey Johnson, Rendon performed capably at second. This spring, he could likely see the bulk of his work at second, which will help.
“I’m pretty confident,” he said of his rookie season. “I could have been better. It could have been worse. Things happen for a reason. I take it in strides and one day at a time.”
The first taste of the majors is helping Rendon prepare for the season more effectively. Like he has in the past offseasons, Rendon has been working out at Fairchild Sports Performance in Houston. He had never played as many games in professional baseball — 134 between the majors and minors — as he did last season and his body felt it late in the season, and Johnson gave him more rest then. After having his wisdom teeth removed last season, too, Rendon said he lost 15 pounds. “That’s why I was really skinny last year, so don’t hold that against me,” he said. But the lesson was to take better care of his body.
“Since it was my first pro season since coming off that ankle injury, just trying to learn the game up there, come up to speed, nutrition myself the right way, trying to keep weight on,” he said. “It’s such a long season you lose weight in a heartbeat. I really didn’t realize that or buy into it until I went through it. Just gaining the experience of being there myself. … Knowing what to eat and how much to eat just to maintain.”
Rendon will battle for the second base under Williams’ watchful eye, and the two have known each other for some time. Williams got his first true taste of managing in 2012 when he was the manager of an Arizona Fall League team that featured Rendon. The two saw each other again at NatsFest, the first time since the Nationals’ season-ending series in Arizona. And Rendon was curious how much Williams knew then about his future job.
” ‘Did you know something was up when I saw you?’ ” Rendon said he asked Williams at NatsFest. ” ‘Did you have an idea you were going to come here?’ He was like, ‘No. And yes. Not really. I kind of knew but nothing was set in stone. I knew it was in the running.’ It’s kind of awesome he’s here and he gets to be my manager again.”
Rendon spoke highly of Williams’ ability to inspire.
“I like that he brings a little fire,” he said. “There were a couple times in the Fall League where we were slacking. It was the end of the year, not lazy but you’ve played a lot of baseball. Then he got that moment where he’ll lay into you a little and get that fire and get you going.”