- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2012

VIERA, Fla. — If not for his swing, the unassuming nature with which Anthony Rendon has gone about his first major league camp might fool you into thinking he’s just another non-roster invitee. The Washington Nationals’ 2011 first-round draft pick, the player many considered the best position prospect, isn’t bombastic or verbose.

“You really don’t even notice him unless you go over and talk to him,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said Thursday, his locker in a corner of the clubhouse that’s about as far as you could get from Rendon‘s.

Oh, but that swing.

“It’s about as clean a delivery of the barrel as you will find,” said Nationals third base coach Bo Porter, who’s thrown batting practice to Rendon throughout the spring and watched him power the ball to all fields. “They don’t come around too often.”

“You know the thing about that swing?” Porter added. “It plays in any ballpark.”

The Nationals have big plans for Rendon. They signed him to a major league deal last August with the intention that he wouldn’t spend too much time toiling away in their minor league system. Zimmerman’s recent long-term contract extension makes it unlikely that Rendon’s initial spot in the major leagues will be at third base, but his soft hands and quick wrists — the ones that give him the swing that coaches and teammates are swooning over — help his versatility in the field as well. If he hits, they’ll find a place for him.

“I think he’s going to help us in a lot of ways,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t know when, but he’s definitely going to help.”

Rendon’s talent has given him every reason to feel at home in the clubhouse. There seems no shortage of team officials who feel he’ll join them in Washington in relatively short order, wherever his position may be. And yet he’s found his path is instead one of quiet diligence. “He’s like, sneaky confident,” as Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond put it.

“He’s not walking around with his chest puffed out, he’s doing things the right way,” Desmond added. “He comes and sits at his locker, doesn’t say anything unless you talk to him. Me, I respect that. I think the rest of the guys respect that. He was taught well by somebody.”

The son of Rene and Bridget Rendon, who’ve watched proudly from the stands this week in Florida, Anthony is a Texas boy to his core. He calls reporters sir and ma’am until they insist he stop, smiles shyly at the suggestion that he’s impressing the right people during his time here and notes that he’s trying his best thus far in camp (2-for-10) even though the nine-month layoff he dealt with before this is taking its toll. Veterans on the Nationals have urged him to be more vocal, to get to know them, but Rendon is biding his time.

“[I was told] just do your work,” Rendon said of the advice he got before he arrived. “Just try to stay quiet, try to learn and observe the veteran guys and maybe a couple spring trainings later you can start opening up, start being yourself.

“I’m trying to keep my distance, but stay close at the same time.”

His personality sits in stark contrast to that of the Nationals‘ last first-round pick who joined major league camp, outfielder Bryce Harper. But that doesn’t stop teammates from finding another - perhaps more flattering - comparison for him without leaving the clubhouse.

“He’s like the spitting image — a little bit smaller — but exactly like Ryan Zimmerman when he signed,” Desmond said. “I remember when Zim signed, we [watched him hit] and we were all like, ‘Whoa! How do you do that?’ But it worked. That’s exactly what Anthony’s like.

“The extreme hand movement that they have when they swing, the good rotation, he hits the ball on the barrel a lot — more than not — and his character and his personality are almost identical. … I think this kid’s going to be really special.”

NOTES: Bryce Harper was a late scratch from Thursday’s 8-0 victory over the Houston Astros with left calf tightness. The Nationals do not believe the issue is serious and expect Harper to miss two or three games.

• Edwin Jackson, Ross Detwiler, Ryan Perry and Henry Rodriguez combined for nine shutout innings Thursday. The starting pitchers have thrown 12 straight scoreless innings dating to Monday night.