COMMENTARY | As most of NatsTown is aware of by now, last weekend, in reaction to the news that Ryan Zimmerman's injured hamstring was going to force him to the disabled list, the Nationals promoted prospect Anthony Rendon to Washington to fill in at third base.
Rendon, the Nationals' 2011 first-round pick, was drafted out of Rice University with the reputation as one of the best collegiate hitters in the past five or 10 years. But questions about his ability to stay healthy forced a slide to sixth overall. The Nationals confidently drafted and signed Rendon, and the question has lingered ever since: How long until his bat permanently forces his way to Washington?
Rendon, 22 years old, was the talk of Nationals spring training. He took advantage of the additional repetitions this spring due to Zimmerman's offseason shoulder surgery to hit .375/.412/.875 with 4 home runs and 11 runs batted in over 32 at-bats. He continued to hit in Double-A Harrisburg, batting .292/.462/.500 with 2 home runs and 14 walks against only 9 strikeouts in 48 at-bats, giving the organization the confidence to promote him when Zimmerman's hamstring injury sent him to the disabled list.
Through his first four games, Rendon's results have been mixed, as he has only two hits and five strikeouts over his first 15 at-bats. However, in these plate appearances he has shown an excellent swing with quick bat speed and impressive patience, seeing an average of 4.80 pitches per at-bat, which would lead baseball if he qualified with enough chances at the plate.
Also worth noting is Rendon's impressive ability to swing at good pitches, although he has struggled to capitalize thus far in his opportunities. Like much of the Nationals' lineup recently, Rendon's timing seems to be just slightly off. But if he continues to show extraordinary patience at the plate, combined with his natural talent of hitting a baseball, he should find his groove shortly and prove he is major league-ready.
Soon, the Nationals will be faced with a dilemma, as reports have Zimmerman's hamstring progressing well and could have him ready to return in about 10 days. Should the team send Rendon back to the minor leagues for more seasoning or keep him in Washington? The team has stated that Rendon will be sent back to the minors when Zimmerman has recovered so he can continue to play every day.
Although Rendon could use additional minor-league at-bats to improve his recognition and contact ability against off-speed pitches, the bench, a Nationals strength in 2012, has struggled in 2013 and his bat would be a nice asset going forward this season.
Rendon could provide the occasional off-day for Zimmerman at third when he returns, along with the other infield positions, and could be used to pinch hit most nights and serve as a designated hitter in interleague play. Rendon could easily carve out 200-300 at-bats the rest of the year. Not to mention, because the Nationals kept Rendon in the minor leagues the required 20 days this spring, the team delayed his opportunity at free agency until 2019, meaning, financially, there is little incentive to returning him to the minor leagues.
Therefore, the decision should be made on talent and overall benefit to the team, and while still lacking some polish and contrary to the initial comments of the team, Rendon can provide enough benefit offensively and defensively that the Nationals need to find a way to keep him in Washington the rest of the season.
Ryan Sullivan is Editor-in-Chief of NatsGM.com, a critical analysis website analyzing the Washington Nationals and other topics around baseball. He also does a weekly Podcast and contributes at RedPorchReport.com.
You can email Ryan at NationalsGM@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @NatsGMdotcom.
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