Nationals’ top pick Rendon out to prove he can stay healthy

Top pick Anthony Rendon, a third baseman, is completely healthy and thrilled to be in his first spring training with the Washington Nationals.

“It is really exciting,” Rendon said. “First game, I want to take a step back and soak it all in. (It is special) looking around at all these guys I watched them on TV the last couple years, and now I am in the same clubhouse.”

Rendon said his injuries to his shoulder and ankles were more quirky and “freak accidents” than signs of long-term problems. Reacting to critics who say he might not be able to handle the rigors of playing a different position like second base because of his ankles, Rendon said he is 100 percent healthy and has no concern when runners come at him at each base.

“Oh no, not at all,” Rendon said. “I have an older brother, he is always coming at me (on the bases). He is about two inches taller than me, and weighs 50 to 75 pounds more than me, so I am used to it.”

If injuries made his draft stock fall to No. 6, his hitting ability made sure he did not drop any further. Whenever you hear scouts, coaches or journalists talk about what separates Rendon from other players in his age group, it is how strong his hands are and how quick he can move them through the zone with a bat in hand.

“I think that is what makes me a good hitter,” Rendon said. “I don’t know where (that quickness) came from but I guess it is just God-given talent, and (I am) using what he gave me. I have always been taught to put the barrel on the ball and use my hands to get inside of it. I guess it is has been working, so I have got to keep to doing it.”

Early in camp, the Nationals made headlines by re-signing the “face of the franchise,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, to a long-term contract. That deal, and the fact that Zimmerman plays the same position Rendon covers, does not faze the former Rice University standout.

“I just want to get going,” Rendon said. “Obviously, they had to lock him down. That is what they are supposed to do. He is a great player. I have to just go out there and play my game. Hopefully, one day I will get the opportunity to help the big league club whether it is at third, shortstop, outfield, anywhere, I just want to play.”

And Rendon has played baseball pretty much his whole life, so he has played several positions in the infield and the outfield.

“When I was really young I played second base,” Rendon remembers. “I was always the smallest guy on the team. Probably at age 13 and in to high school, I played shortstop. I grew up as a shortstop my whole life. I transitioned to third when I went to Rice University. I am pretty comfortable playing anywhere. I just want a bat to be put in my hand.”

Rendon has taken the approach of being seen and not heard in his first camp, working hard at his craft and “soaking it all in.” He said the chance to sit down with veterans like Zimmerman or Jayson Werth might wait to a camp or two down the road. He is also enjoying the chance to be reunited with college teammate Rick Hague, the player grew up with in his native Texas.

But make no mistake, Rendon is clearly focused and driven to prove he can handle the six-month grind of a professional season at the highest levels.

“I am just trying to get my body prepared for (the long season),” Rendon said. “I want to finally get all these people off me who are saying I am injury prone. I am just trying to stay healthy.”

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