Washington Nationals third-base prospect Anthony Rendon had a big, broad smile on his face when I met him before an Arizona Fall League game. He's healthy. Rendon is playing well. And he's appropriately confident.
Rendon has always played well. He's always been confident. But he hasn't always been healthy.
In Rendon's senior year at Lamar High School in Texas, he hit .570 with eight home runs and 56 RBIs. After high school, Rendon's robust offensive statistics earned him a selection by the Atlanta Braves in the 27th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.
Instead of signing a professional contract, the 6-foot, 195-pound Rendon attended Rice University. He just kept hitting. As a freshman at Rice, Rendon hit .388 with 20 home runs and 72 RBIs. However, at the end of the season, he broke his ankle and needed surgery.
Rendon recovered and returned to the lineup as a sophomore. The offensive results were even better -- .394 with 26 homers and 85 RBIs.
Rendon earned a place on the United States team that competed internationally. In a game against Korea, he once again injured the same right ankle. Even considering his injuries, scouts were considering Rendon as a potential first overall selection for the 2010 Draft.
Then, while a junior, Rendon sustained a strained right (throwing) shoulder muscle. He was relegated to designated-hitter duties. Even with some of his power zapped by the injury, Rendon still hit .327 with six home runs and 37 RBIs.
Rendon finished his collegiate career with a reputation as an impact hitter with a tremendous future. However, with the shoulder strain, that future became a bit clouded.
Was Rendon injury prone? Was his swing impacted by the shoulder strain? Questions were being asked prior to the June Draft. Doubts had found their way to the Rendon discussions.
When Draft day came, some clubs may have indeed feared Rendon's injury history. Instead of him being the first player chosen, the Washington Nationals were able to select him with the No. 6 pick overall.
Unfortunately, Rendon's professional career began on a sour note. Once again, the injury bug bit him. Believe it or not, after only six plate appearances as a professional, Rendon sustained a fractured left ankle trying to score from second base.
For the third time, (two to the right, one to the left) Rendon would face ankle injury rehabilitation. Rendon did not give up. Instead, he recovered and played this past season, his first overall, at four classifications in the Nationals' system.
From the Gulf Coast Rookie League to Double-A Harrisburg, he played in only 43 games and had 160 plate appearances. In that very small sampling, Rendon hit a combined .233 with six homers and only 12 RBIs. But at least he played.
Now healthy, Rendon is a member of the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League. He is making up for some very important at-bats missed during the regular season. Rendon is very excited about getting the opportunity to refine his swing and work on his game.
It's easy to see why Rendon was so highly regarded in high school and college. The man can hit. And he can play very good defense.
In the Arizona Fall League, Rendon has shown an ability to hit the ball to all fields. He scuffled a bit at the beginning, but has recently been scorching the ball.
Through 19 games, Rendon is hitting .309 with zero homers and 11 RBIs. Proving to himself and his team that his ankle is sound, he has stolen four bases. That's very important for Rendon's peace of mind. I have seen no ill effects or negative impact of his broken ankle.
Rendon's approach is extremely well disciplined. His mechanics are refined. He's a smart, mature hitter. He's short to the ball and he doesn't "give away" at-bats. Rendon recognizes pitches well, using patience and a trained eye while offering only at pitches he can drive.
Rendon has the ability to coordinate his trunk and hands through the ball, resulting in a measured and controlled approach that is very quick through the pitch. I have seen solid, consistent barrel of the bat contact.
Rendon has strong forearms and wrists, and just the slightest bit of uppercut that guides his swing. He gets appropriate loft without constantly offering easy fly balls to outfielders that fall short of the fence. In fact, I have seen more line drives than fly balls.
At the age of 22 and already extremely strong, I'm not sure Rendon can expect much more in the way of additional body development. I do, however, think he has sufficient strength to become a consistent home run threat.
Historically, he has shown an ability to hit for power. Currently, however, he is still regaining strength, fitness and timing. I believe his power will return. It may take some time and patience as he works off the rust of his shortened 2011 season.
My personal surprise came when I saw Rendon play defense. He has a quick first step, especially to his left side. Rendon has the ability to make routine as well as difficult plays. His arm is both strong and accurate. He is agile and loose in his movements. In fact, if need be, Rendon is a good enough athlete to transition to either second base or the outfield.
A five-tool player, Rendon has the ability to run well and steal bases.
For Rendon, at-bats in the Arizona Fall League are precious. He is making up for lost time playing the game he loves.
The big smile on Rendon's face is easy to understand. He's finally healthy.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.