VIERA, Fla. - Today marks the Nationals’ first day off so far this spring, and of course it comes on a day when temperatures are expected to barely make it into the 60s.
It’s currently 38 degrees here on the east coast of Florida. So much for a beach trip this morning.
The Nationals’ facilities will be open to players and coaches looking to work out today, but there will be no media availability. I will, however, make my way over to the back fields at the Space Coast Stadium complex this afternoon to catch Chris Young’s appearance in a minor league game.
This will be Young’s first game experience this spring, and assuming all goes well, it’ll be his final tune-up before he takes Ross Detwiler’s place in the spring rotation and starts Saturday’s game against the Marlins. I hope to have a report later today on how Young looked.
I’ve written a lot about Anthony Rendon over the last week and a half, largely because of how well the Nationals’ top prospect has performed in the early stages of spring. Rendon is hitting a robust .438 with two home runs, three doubles and seven RBIs in seven games played. Among 16 Nationals with at least 10 at-bats this spring, Rendon has the highest OPS at 1.471 and ranks behind just Bryce Harper in batting average.
At the risk of this becoming Anthony Rendon spring training featuring the rest of the Washington Nationals, here’s another entry on the talented young infielder. I’m sure you all won’t mind.
When you stand next to Rendon, he doesn’t strike you as the type of guy who would leave scouts drooling over his offensive potential. While Rendon has an athletic build, he certainly isn’t a big guy by major league standards, and is perhaps generously listed at 6-feet, 195 lbs.
So how does a guy with a fairly average big league body type generate enough bat-head speed and power that he’s been labeled one of the most advanced hitting prospects in the minors since the second the Nationals selected him with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft? How does he turn around an Adam Wainwright fastball and crush it two-thirds of the way up the batter’s eye above the center-field wall?
A lot of it, scouts say, is due to Rendon’s basic hitting fundamentals. He has the type of swing that hitting instructors wish they could duplicate and pass on to every single one of their players. Rendon is patient and waits for the ball to travel deep into the zone, but is quick to the ball, with very little wasted motion. He has great torque in his swing, keeping his hands back and firing his hips to create a lot of that great bat-head speed, yet his swing is calm and seems almost effortless.
Then there are Rendon’s wrists and hands, which many scouts and hitting instructors say are the key to Rendon’s offensive success.
“When you watch the timing of his swing, he’s got really loose wrists, really quick, loose wrists,” Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein said. “As he’s getting the bat through the hitting zone, his wrists really kind of flick it. His timing is good and as the barrel accelerates through the hitting area, the ball just jumps.
“His hands are lightning quick. He’s smooth and calm, and he generates great bat-head speed. His hands are really loose and lightening.”
Not only does Rendon have great hitting mechanics, ones that barely need to be tweaked when he’s clicking, but Eckstein says he also has an incredibly advanced approach for a guy of his age.
Rendon has only played in 43 professional games to this point due to an ankle injury that kept him out for much of last season, but it’s already clear to those who have watched him that the 22-year-old has the type of plate discipline that can make him incredibly successful at the big league level. After all, this is a guy who had almost a 3-to-1 walk-to-strikeout ratio his sophomore season at Rice, and posted more home runs that season (26) than strikeouts (22).
“He’s definitely a hitter that has a really good idea as to who he is and what he does,” Eckstein said. “Now that he’s fully healthy, he’s really capable of showing everybody what he’s capable of doing, and it’s exciting to watch him do that. As far as being 22, yes, he’s young in age, but he seems very advanced when he takes the field.”
At this point, the jury still seems to be out on exactly what type of hitter Rendon can become. Is he a high-average guy with decent power potential? Is he a guy who can use his plate discipline to allow him to reach base at a .400 clip? Is he a possible 25-30 homer guy?
For his part, Eckstein doesn’t want to put a label on Rendon as a hitter, instead preferring to let his talent do the talking.
“I think his ceiling is extremely high,” Eckstein said. “To try to put numbers associated with that, I don’t like to think in those type of terms, I just know he knows how to get the barrel to the ball, he stays in the strike zone, he doesn’t chase outside the strike zone and the ball really jumps off his bat. So with that being said, I think his ceiling is extremely high.
“I think he has the ability to hit for a good average, I think there’s pop in the bat. And the way that he’s handled and conducted himself so far, that we’ve seen, that maturation process is advanced for his age. So from that standpoint, it’s exciting to think about his future and if he stays healthy, what he can do.”