VIERA, Fla. - Anthony Rendon is no stranger to Space Coast Stadium, having made an appearance here at fall instructional league after the Nationals made the Rice third baseman the sixth overall pick in the June draft. But arriving at his first spring training made the 21-year-old think of how far he’s come in a very brief time.
“It’s crazy,” Rendon said after arriving at his locker stall in the Nationals clubhouse Monday morning. “Feels like just yesterday I was playing select ball growing up and the next thing you know, I’m right here. It’s pretty awesome.”
Yet Rendon quickly established that he was nothing more than a youngster hoping to act as a sponge around more experienced players before he gets sent to the Nats’ minor league camp.
“I’m just trying to observe, trying to learn everybody’s ways, trying to act like these guys,” he said. “I’m not trying to be the new guy that messes up. I’m going to be a fly on the wall and just observe and try to learn everything and take it all in.”
During a brief meeting with manager Davey Johnson en route to the clubhouse, Rendon found out that he’d be playing second base, third base and shortstop while he’s in camp. He’s familiar with all three positions, having played second and short as a youth player before moving in college, where he played third and second.
“I just talked to the skipper and he said I’d probably be moving around - third, short and second. He said he wanted to work on my footwork at second base before I go out there because it’s a different world on that side of the infield,” Rendon said.
The presence of Ryan Zimmerman at third base could force the Nationals to switch either Zimmerman or Rendon to another position down the road. Rendon deftly deflected a question about how he’d feel about moving from third base, the position he played most regularly at Rice until a right shoulder injury in his junior year forced him to designated hitter duty for most of the remainder of the season.
“He’s going to be here a long time, I’m pretty sure,” Rendon said of Zimmerman. “He’s an All-Star, he’s a great player. I’m not trying to come in here and take anything away from him because he’s a great player. He deserves everything he’s earned, so I’m not trying to ruin that.”
What Rendon does want to do is use spring training to prove that the shoulder problem that dropped him from a possible top overall pick into the Nationals’ laps at No. 6 in the first round is behind him. He spent the offseason working on a throwing program to strengthen the joint and is eager to test the shoulder out. He hasn’t played a full game, both in the field and at bat, since the Owls’ season ended in June.
“It feels good. I’m ready to go,” Rendon said. “I had no setbacks in the offseason, so I’m excited to get started.”
But before he hits the field, he’s still getting acclimated to his new surroundings.
“I’m the rookie again. I feel like I’m a freshman back at Rice,” he said with a smile.