VIERA, Fla. — Wearing a lime green sweatshirt and cargo shorts, Anthony Rendon walked into the Nationals clubhouse Monday morning for the first time and looked around.
“I feel like I’m a freshman back at rice,” said the No. 6 overall pick in last year’s draft. “I’m the rookie again.
“It’s crazy. It feels like just yesterday I was still playing select ball, growing up. Next thing you know, I’m right here. It’s pretty awesome… I’m just going to be a fly on the wall. I’m going to stay quiet and see what everybody else does — what I’m supposed to do, what I’m not supposed to do, just learn.”
In that respect, Rendon differs from the last first-round pick the Nationals brought into big league camp — the one with a locker across the room from Rendon’s. Last spring, Bryce Harper made no bones about his desire to make the Nationals major league team out of camp. No matter how many times they told him he wouldn’t be on it, Harper still believed his play would have the final say.
Rendon, on the other hand, chuckled at the thought.
“There’s a really high chance I’m not going to make the team,” he said. “I’m not thinking ‘I’m trying to go straight to the bigs.’ I’m just taking my time to get a feel for everything and get used to this lifestyle.”
When Rendon does suit up and play in his first spring training game, it’ll be the first live action he’s seen since the conference tournament he played in with Rice University last June. When he plays the field, it’ll be the first time he’s done it in earnest since months before that.
Rendon dealt with a shoulder injury during his final season at Rice but to keep his integral bat in the lineup, they used him as a designated hitter. He played second base some during the tournament, he said, but his shoulder was nowhere near where it should have been. When the Nationals got ahold of him, the first thing they did was put him on a throwing program during the instructional league to help build up his strength.
To that end, Rendon said everything feels great. He didn’t suffer any setbacks this offseason as he went through the progression and he’s ready to get going.
So just where will be getting his time in? The Nationals have said repeatedly that he will play third base in the minor leagues and, until they’re forced to make a decision, they won’t consider him at other spots. But when Rendon arrived on Monday, Nationals manager Davey Johnson told him he’d move around a bit this spring. while the two waited to take their physicals, Johnson told him he’d play third and shortstop, in order to get more playing time, as well as second base, possibly, but not before a few sessions on footwork there to prevent injury.
“‘I look at you at third but for the purpose of getting in some games here, I may have to play you at short,’” Johnson said. “He said he didn’t have a problem with that.”
Rendon played mostly second and shortstop growing up, an undersized player for most of his life, and didn’t switch to third base in earnest until college. The Nationals, you might recall, already have a third baseman — one both sides appear hopeful they’ll lock up for the long-term.
Ryan Zimmerman told The Washington Post on Monday that he wants to play third base “until someone is better than me at it.”
“I want to play my whole career here,” Zimmerman said. “If that means me playing third base for five more years and then moving somewhere because someone is better than me at third and it’ll help us win, then I’ll do it. If that means me playing third base for 10 years and then going to first base or wherever, then I’ll do it. I don’t care. I just think as long as I can play the position and give us the best chance to win, then I think I should be there. If someone comes and they’re better than me, then they’re better than me. I’m certainly not going to make it easy for someone to come and be better than me. Someone is going to have to take it from me. It’s not going to be given to them, that’s for sure. I don’t really see myself giving that up anytime soon.”
So does Rendon have any plans of supplanting Zimmerman? Doesn’t seem that way.
“He’s going to be here a long time, I’m pretty sure,” Rendon said. “He’s an All-Star, he’s a great player. I’m not coming in trying to take anything away from him because he’s set in stone here. He deserves everything he’s earned so I’m not trying to ruin that.”