Marty Niland: Keep expectations realistic for Anthony Rendon

Welcome to the big leagues, Anthony Rendon.

Making his major league debut Sunday against the New York Mets, the Nationals’ 2011 first-round draft pick went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts, including one to end a 2-0 loss. He made a nice foul catch in the first inning, but like the rest of the Washington offense, never got comfortable at the plate against Mets starter Dillon Gee.

That might seem disappointing, but it’s probably typical for a rookie who has fewer than 60 games of minor league experience. So let’s not judge Rendon on his inauspicious debut or expect too much of him.

That might be difficult considering the circumstances. There have already been plenty of comparisons to Bryce Harper, whose debut last year came in a similar situation: With the offense struggling, starting third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was sent to the disabled list, creating an opportunity for a promising rookie.

As Nationals fans know, the 19-year-old Harper provided an instant spark to the lineup and was a key player in the Nats’ surprising run to baseball’s best record. But it’s not fair to place such expectations on the 22-year-old Rendon. Harper was a No. 1 overall pick who had been groomed for the majors since high school and rocketed through the minor league organization in a single season. Rendon was the No. 6 overall selection in a talent-rich draft, but missed most of his first professional season with a broken ankle. He has played just 35 games in Double-A and 57 altogether in the minors.

General manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson also said when Harper was called up that they expected him to succeed in the majors and remain with the big league club. In announcing Rendon’s promotion Saturday, Rizzo told reporters he believes Rendon will return to the minors once Zimmerman is back.

That’s not to say Rendon doesn’t have the potential to succeed. He put together two impressive spring training campaigns and has the best bat in the minor league system, with a glove that is ready for the majors. Johnson has enough confidence in him to drop him straight into the starting lineup on a club that is looking for consistency in all areas. But Rendon’s level of experience and the makeup of the rest of the club make it difficult to believe he will stay long if Zimmerman is healthy.

Is it likely that the Nats would choose Rendon over Steve Lombardozzi, Tyler Moore or Chad Tracy - versatile players who made key contributions in last year’s playoff drive? It’s more probable that he will give the team a few solid starts at third base, get his feet wet against major league pitching and then return to the minors, where he can play every day and gain the experience he needs to contribute regularly at the major league level.

It’s possible that Rendon will get some clutch hits and drive in a few runs before Zimmerman returns from the DL. His defensive skills could also spark the consistency the Nats have been lacking. But Rendon will not cure what’s wrong with the Nationals so far this season, and fans should not expect that from him. Let’s enjoy his brief stay in the majors and hope that injuries don’t require him to return until September.

Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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