Anthony Rendon was eight years old when Miami's Pat Burrell was selected No. 1 overall in the 1998 MLB draft, but the two soon could have something in common.
The drafting of college players in the early rounds has increased for many professional teams in recent years, but Division I college position players have been unable to ascent to the top overall pick. Burrell, the Phillies' No. 1 pick in '98, is the last Division I position player to be the top selection.
Since that year, five Division I position players have been No. 2 overall picks: North Carolina's Dustin Ackley, Vanderbilt's Pedro Alvarez, Nebraska's Alex Gordon, Southern's Rickie Weeks and Cal State Fullerton's Adam Johnson.
Rendon – the Yahoo! Sports College Baseball National Player of the Year – could end the drought and become the No. 1 pick in 2011, assuming he recovers completely from an ankle injury he suffered this week in a Team USA game.
"Anthony has great eye-hand coordination and tremendous eyesight. He lays off bad pitches," Rice coach Wayne Graham said. "He basically has the same type of attributes that Lance Berkman had when he was at Rice."
Graham is reluctant to extend the Rendon-Berkman comparison too far. Rendon, after all, has only proven his worth at the collegiate level. Berkman, meanwhile, has gone on to have an excellent career with the Astros and is a five-time MLB All-Star. Still, Graham has plenty of reasons to be excited about Rendon's junior campaign next season and his potential at the next level.
Perhaps everyone should've seen it coming.
Two years ago, Graham spent much of fall workouts predicting Rendon would be a special player. Plenty of coaches say that, so it was easy to be skeptical. Graham, though, is not the type to overhype a player.
As a freshman, Rendon had little trouble adjusting to Division I baseball. He batted .388 with 20 homers and 72 RBIs and earned Yahoo! Sports National Freshman of the Year honors.
Rendon also dealt with injury. He tore two ligaments in his ankle in the Baton Rouge Super Regional against LSU and missed the entire summer. The hard-nosed third baseman was back on the diamond when the Owls began the 2010 season.
Rendon started the season on a slow note, batting around .280 after a few weeks of action.
That small slump didn't last long.
"No matter how good you are, you're going to go through a spell every now and then," Graham said. "I remember a few years ago Barry Bonds started the first 30-35 games of his season on a bad note. He rebounded. That can happen to anyone."
After making adjustments to teams trying to pitch around him, Rendon got in a groove and never cooled off. And though he was unable to lead Rice to a super regional, his presence was always felt.
When the Owls faced in-state rival Texas in the Austin Regional, there was a packed house on hand to witness Rendon facing off against the Longhorns' barrage of outstanding pitchers. But even with UT's big guns on the mound, computers would close in the press box and the stands would buzz when Rendon walked to the plate.
That was nothing new to the third baseman, though. He's used to being the main event.
Rendon finished the 2010 season hitting .394 with 26 homers and 85 RBIs. He also had an incredible .530 on-base percentage. Perhaps most impressive about his sophomore campaign is that he drew 65 walks, a stark contrast from his 31 walks as a freshman.
"I think he is a very disciplined hitter," Graham said. "I also think his OBP could be better if he didn't feel the necessity to expand the strike zone and hit some pitches off the plate to drive in runs. He probably even sacrificed some at bats this past season by trying to drive in runs."
Though his offensive capabilities are what separate him from some of the other top players and prospects, Rendon also has a fantastic glove, good range and has a great baseball personality.
Rendon still has goals at the college level. He would like to lead the Owls to the College World Series and win a national title. Then there is the personal goal of becoming the top overall pick in next year's draft.
There is plenty of competition for the top spot, particularly from TCU left-handed pitcher Matt Purke. But Graham has his own opinion of why Rendon should be the top pick.
"If you're looking at things long term, I'd try to look at the one that I thought was surest to be a long-term MLB player. You never know what might happen to a pitcher, so I think it's more predictable what a position player will accomplish," Graham said. "I realize there's a risk in position players making it, too. But less bad things might happen."
At least one American League scouting director believes Rendon is neck-and-neck with Purke.
"Rendon is a big-time talent and he has a big bat that is his calling card," the scouting director said. "He's right there with Purke. He's never going to be a guy that runs really well. But that is not an issue at all as his main tool is his bat."
Rendon was slated to spend the summer playing with the Team USA collegiate national team. But after fracturing and dislocating his ankle, he will miss the rest of the summer with surgery and rehab.
Like last summer's similar injury, the prognosis calls for Rendon to be healthy and ready to go when the Owls start back up next February.
Chances are Rendon will have another exceptional season.
Maybe he will join the company of Pat Burrell, too.
- Pat Burrell