SAN FRANCISCO - With the sixth pick in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, the Nationals took Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, a talented two-way player who went into the draft at the top of many mock drafts but slid because of injury concerns.
Rendon hit only six homers in 2011 after posting a combined 46 the previous two years, having undergone two ankle surgeries and experienced shoulder problems that limited him to designated hitter duty this season. Many pundits had Rendon, who turned 21 today, going to the Mariners with the second overall pick, but he wound up with the Nationals after a series of turns removed several players who had been linked to the Nationals.
The team would have loved to have had University Virginia left-hander Danny Hultzen, who grew up in Bethesda and went to St. Albans School in the District. And the Nationals were high on Kansas high school outfielder Bubba Starling, whom many analysts thought would be the team's pick. But when the Mariners took Hultzen second overall, it sent Rendon sliding down the draft board, and the Royals passed on the third baseman to take Starling, who played high school ball 36 miles from Kauffman Stadium.
Those proceedings left the Nationals with a talented player that general manager Mike Rizzo said has Gold Glove potential at third base - even if the team will have a handful of things to sort out with Rendon.
"We were pleasantly surprised that he got to us at (No.) 6," Rizzo said. "Going into the draft season, he was projected to be the No. 1 pick, the best college hitter in the game, and throughout the college season, he held onto that status. As late as about 24 hours ago, he was supposedly going (No.) 1 or 2 in the draft."
Now that they have him, the Nationals will have a few issues to work through with Rendon. He's the third straight Scott Boras client the team has taken with its top pick, and though he's a college junior coming off injuries, Boras' players are always a challenge to sign. Rizzo said he has a "great relationship" with Boras, which is probably an understatement considering the number of high-profile Boras clients the team has signed in the last two years, but the team could be looking at another down-to-the-deadline set of negotiations with Boras in August.
The Nationals will also have to figure out where Rendon plays in the long term; he said on a televised interview with MLB Network that no one had talked to him about changing positions, and Rizzo said Rendon would start his career at third base in the minors. In the majors, though, that position is currently the domain of Ryan Zimmerman, the team's best player and a Gold Glove winner. Assuming Rendon reaches the majors and Zimmerman is still with the team at the time, the Nationals will have to make a difficult decision; they've got two middle infielders (Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa) they project to be in the lineup for the foreseeable future, and at 6-foot, Rendon doesn't look like a first baseman.
Plenty can change between the time Rendon signs and gets to the majors, but today, the Nationals decided to take the player they thought was the best available and let everything else work itself out.
"Right now, we feel third base is his position," Rizzo said. "We'll delay that decision until we have to make it."
Rizzo wouldn't say what the Nationals had found in their medical examinations of Rendon's shoulder, preferring to wait until the team's medical staff could explain the situation. The status of Rendon's medical records had been something of a hot topic leading up to the draft, with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik calling on him to release it in late March, but Rendon told the Seattle Times last week he had given his medical history to MLB's scouting bureau, which could then release it to all 30 teams.
And Rizzo said the Nationals "got all the medical reports and films, that our doctors have gone over very painstakingly. We feel good about it."
The Nationals also have the 23rd and 34th overall picks tonight. Byron Kerr is at Nationals Park covering the proceedings, and Rizzo will speak to the media again after the team's final pick of the night. Stay tuned for more.