One to watch: Second base prospect Tony Renda

Nationals second baseman prospect Tony Renda is ready to take the next step in the system after a very successful 2013 campaign with low Single-A Hagerstown.

Renda batted .294 in 135 games with 99 runs, 51 RBIs, 30 stolen bases, 43 doubles, three triples and three home runs for the division champion and league finalist Suns.

He also was the club’s first recipient of the newly established Bob Boone award, which exemplifies “a player that has demonstrated professionalism, leadership, loyalty, passion, selflessness, durability, makeup, intangibles and a tremendous work ethic.” The award is in honor of Bob Boone, the current Nationals vice president of player personnel, who displayed all of those the qualities in his 20-plus years as a major league player and coach.

I could tell in my first talks with Renda, the former California Golden Bear, that he was focused on the season and went out and delivered on that promise. He was also the consummate teammate, always working to make everyone else better.

Renda is one to watch in 2014.

The Suns played like a team and showcased their talent all the way to the South Atlantic League finals against Savannah.

Current high Single-A Potomac and former Hagerstown manager Tripp Keister saw all those qualities in Renda’s play every day.

After 71 games with short-season Single-A Auburn his first season, 2013 was Renda’s first full season in the pros.

“Tony Renda was a leader with our position players,” Keister said. “He played every game but one. I think he had one day off all last year. He led the league in games played, runs scored, doubles, a bunch of categories. He set the tone both in the way he approached the game, and he was a leader in the clubhouse and a leader on the field by his actions.”

Keister said Renda’s offensive numbers stand out, but he also noticed how quick and efficient the young infielder became with his glove.

“He is fun to watch,” Keister noted. “I was really impressed. I really felt like he got better with his defense. He turned the double play, his turns to second base, he got a lot better with them. He was making plays in the hole.

“I thought making that play in short right field and getting the guy out at first base, kind of robbing him of a single, he did an outstanding job with that. He was impressive with his improvement defensively. He was exciting to watch and progress throughout the year.”

Fans rarely get to see how players handle themselves in warmups, off days, on the team bus, after games. Getting to the field early and leaving late - the work ethic required to be successful is what baseball coaches affectionately call “the grind.” As Nationals hitting coach Rick Schu always told me, Renda is “an ultimate grinder.”

“He approaches the game the right way,” Keister said. “He has a professional mentality in everything he does. He definitely set the tone for us as a leader and in the way he played each and every game.”

Renda and most of his teammates will make the next jump to Potomac this season where Keister will get to manage him again.

The Santa Rosa, Calif., native is separating himself as the next solid infield prospect for the Nationals. He also has the ability to get on base and steal bases, a commodity that will be important with Billy Burns moving on in a trade to Oakland. Burns stole 74 bases last season.

Renda had a .380 on-base percentage last season and earned more walks (68) than strikeouts (65) in 521 at-bats. That is only one strikeout per eight at-bats.

“It is his on-base percentage, runs scored, walks - he is a selfless player,” Keister said.

Renda batted second behind center fielder Isaac Ballou late last season in Hagerstown. Renda projects as the two-hole guy again, and will now get a shot at taking on Carolina League pitchers in 2014.

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