Sports

Can The Nationals’ Anthony Rendon Overcome Growing Pains?

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NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: Anthony Rendon #6 of the Washington Nationals follows through on a seventh inning run scoring sacrifice fly against the New York Mets at Citi Field on September 12, 2013 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Nationals defeated the Mets 7-2.

Anthony Rendon (Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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By Rich Arleo

CBS Local Sports, in our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.

Anthony Rendon, Second Baseman, Washington Nationals

2013 season (minors): 36 G, 127 AB, .307 BA, 6 HR, 24 RBI, 1 SB, 1.027 OPS

2013 season (majors): 98 G, 351 AB, .265 BA, 7 HR, 35 RBI, 1 SB, .725 OPS

Over the past few years, the youth the Nationals had stockpiled made a big impact on Major League Baseball. From Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper to Jordan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond, the growth of this young stable of talent has been impressive.

That growth continues thanks to infielder Anthony Rendon. Drafted No. 6 overall by the Nationals in the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft, Rendon quickly rose through the Nationals system. In 2012, spanning four levels (Rookie, Single-A, High-A and Double-A), Rendon had a .363 OBP and .851 OPS in 160 plate appearances. Last season he rocked Double-A with a 1.064 OPS and 30 walks, compared to just 25 strikeouts, in 152 plate appearances before moving up to Triple-A Syracuse. He was called up to the bigs three games later to take over the Nationals’ starting second base job.

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Rendon went through some growing pains for the Nats, hitting .265 with a .725 OPS, though he did crank 23 doubles and seven home runs in 394 PAs. Despite the low average he still managed a .329 OBP, reasonable considering the average. He also showed a keen eye at the plate, swinging at just 20.5 percent of balls, well below league average. But having to learn a new position in the field — the Nats moved Rendon from third to second base — didn’t make things any easier.

All reports out of Nats camp in 2014 are that Rendon will have to battle to keep his starting job with the man he took it from last year, 26-year-old Danny Espinosa. A former Nats prospect himself, Espinosa entered 2013 coming off two straight seasons with at least 15 home runs and 15 steals. He was hit in the wrist by a pitch in April, tried to play through it and struggled mightily before missing much of the season. Even at his best, however, Espinosa is a below-average hitter in the majors and sports a career .230 average, .303 OBP and .698 OPS in two-plus seasons.

Rendon has most of the potential here, and his patience at the plate and plus-power at the second base position should translate into success. He has already showed flashes; Rendon was arguably the Nats best hitter last June with an .842 OPS. He has a leg up on Espinosa in spring training, having settled in to the second base position, and the job seems to be his to lose. Rendon looks poised to break out in 2014, and the competition should only help heading into his first full season in the majors.

Next up: Zack Wheeler, New York Mets

Check out our Fantasy Baseball Preview, breaking down the top players at each position.

Rich Arleo is a Marist College alum who has been a professional writer and editor since graduating in 2010. Find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ for more of his sports musings.

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