In this past June’s MLB draft, the Nationals selected Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon sixth overall. Rendon was widely considered to be the best position player available and was a candidate to go #1 overall as recently as a day before the draft. However, concerns over shoulder and ankle injuries he suffered during the year caused him to slip. The Nationals were unfazed by these issues and were happy to select the draft’s top offensive player. But with face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman, already firmly ensconced at third, the team now faces a dilemma: where will Rendon play?
He excelled at third his freshman year, leading many to forecast him as a future Gold Glover at the hot corner. However, injuries forced him to play at DH for most of this past year, which tempered a bit of that enthusiasm. Despite this concern, he still projects to be a great defender. While Rendon may be a great fit at third base, both defensively and offensively, Zimmerman will occupy that spot until at least 2013. Assuming the Nationals extend Zimmerman’s contract, Rendon’s natural position will be permanently blocked. With a logjam at third base, he will be forced to switch positions.
Rendon’s best tool is his bat, so regardless of his fielding his hitting will bring him up to the majors sooner rather than later. However, once he arrives, he will need a position to play. The corner outfield spots look to be occupied for the long term in D.C., with Jayson Werth’s monster contract in right and super prospect Bryce Harper in left. He obviously cannot play catcher or center field, and to put him at first would be to squander his defensive prowess. Therefore, the best fit for him is the middle infield. Most scouts see second base as a good position for Rendon, as he does not have the ability to play shortstop, but could likely handle the easier fielding demands at second. In this plan, slick-fielding current second baseman Danny Espinosa would move to shortstop, his natural position, relegating shortstop Ian Desmond to the bench.
While Rendon would not be an ideal fit at second, he would certainly be a competent fielder there. Sending him to second also allows him to come to the majors as soon as he is ready, bringing his bat into the lineup sooner rather than later. If Zimmerman stays at third, shifting Rendon to second is the optimal way to get his bat into the lineup, while also preserving his defensive value.