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School's out: Rice star Rendon adjusts to pro ball

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Have a few days?

That's about how long it would take to run down the accolades and awards that have been bestowed on Anthony Rendon. Included in that is an incredible career at Rice University.

"All the accolades in high school and college ... it's good to win accolades, but when I was younger, I didn't really think too much about college," Rendon said. "I just wanted to go straight to the pros. I was naïve, and I just wanted to get right to it."

Rendon still laughs about all the fuss, hoping it all becomes but a distant memory once he begins his career as a Major Leaguer.

There is no telling when that will be, of course, but the slick Nats infielder, rated the 33rd-best prospect by, is doing everything he can to accelerate the process. Rendon took another step in that direction by playing in the 2012 Arizona Fall League for the Salt River Rafters, where he was selected for the midseason Rising Stars Game.

Heading into the final two games of the AFL season, Rendon has been superb. He was hitting .329 with a .487 slugging percentage and .904 OPS, with 11 RBIs, 11 extra-base hits and four stolen bases.

Rendon spent three years at Rice and realized it was time to move on.

"I feel like I proved myself playing at the collegiate level, and I feel like I really matured a great amount both physically and mentally while I was in college, so I felt prepared," Rendon said. "I felt I was ready to take on a new challenge."

That challenge came with high expectation: Rendon was a first-round selection (sixth overall) in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, and he finished the '12 season -- one in which he was limited to 43 games due to an ankle injury -- at Double-A Harrisburg, appearing in 21 games. It was not the type of entry into pro ball Rendon wanted, but he said he learned a lot to help him prepare for the next season.

Rendon likened the lower-level pitching in the Minors to college, but he found a distinctly different scenario in Double-A.

"I learned, 'Yeah, these pitchers know what they're doing at the higher levels,'" Rendon said. "They can place the ball where they want; they don't throw the obvious pitches they would have thrown in college.

"They're actually mixing it up. They're actually pitching now. They are a lot smarter now. Obviously at the higher level, they're more likely to be older and wiser."

Rendon played second base and shortstop growing up, but he was converted to third base at Rice with little difficulty, as evidenced by his Draft position. He does not envision the first-round selection as adding an extra burden.

"Of course, there's always going to be outside pressure, but it's all about honing that pressure, being able to control it," Rendon said. "You don't need to put too much pressure on yourself. You've just got to come out here and play baseball every day."

"I think it's getting in a routine and getting my timing down in hitting. Get a routine every day, coming to the field, knowing what I have to do, know what I'm going to do, and also getting ready to hit. That's the thing I faced coming into pro ball, getting [ready] a little earlier, getting ready to hit, actually being ready to hit instead of trying to make up for bat speed, because the pitching is coming a lot harder and whatnot."

The Nationals have liked what they have seen out of their prized pick, telling Rendon they're impressed with the way he plays and handles himself. The basic message: Play like you are capable of, and we'll see how it goes from there.

Rendon knows that just the physical part of the game is not enough. Asked about what he has to work on the most, he gave a somewhat surprising answer.

"It's my relaxation," Rendon said. "I'm never too tense out there. I don't like to get too tense or too nervous. You just have to stay relaxed. I'm loose, so I think that's a good thing."

In the clubhouse, Rendon likes to keep things loose by telling a few jokes -- "I like to make people smile" -- and he had a quick retort when talking about when Houston Mayor Annise Parker proclaimed June 29, 2010, as "Anthony Rendon Day."

"That was nice," Rendon said. "I guess we kind of cheated a little bit. She's actually a Rice alum, so I guess she heard about a fellow Rice student-athlete doing well and she just wanted to recognize. I guess it gave the school a little bit of publicity."

Nationals hitters in the AFL

Brian Goodwin: An outfielder who was taken in the compensatory round (34th overall) in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Goodwin split the '12 season between Class A and Double-A. He adjusted a bit slowly at the higher level, hitting only .233. With the AFL winding down, Goodwin has three home runs and six RBIs, hitting .237. He also starred in the Rising Stars Game.

Jason Martinson: A shortstop who was a fifth-round selection (146th overall) out of Texas State in the 2010 Draft, Martinson struggled at high Class A Potomac in the Carolina League after a callup, batting .215 in 66 games, but he hit 12 home runs and drove in 43 runs. The 24-year-old appeared in 10 AFL games through Thursday, hitting .167.

Matt Skole: A 6-foot-5, 230-pound third baseman, Skole was a fifth-round Draft pick (157th overall) in 2011. He had a brief, but successful turn in the Carolina League in '12, hitting .314 in 18 games with 10 doubles and 12 RBIs. His grandfather, Tom T. Skole, played in the St. Louis Browns organization. Entering the final weekend of the AFL, Skole was hitting .305 in 17 games, with three home runs and 15 RBIs.

Nationals pitchers in the AFL

Aaron Barrett: A ninth-round Draft pick (266th overall) in 2010, the 24-year-old right-hander showed marked improvement in 2012 -- both at Class A Hagerstown and Potomac. Barrett's ERA dropped in both leagues, where he had a combined 73 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings. Entering Friday's AFL games, he had made 10 appearances, recording a 3.27 ERA.

Paul Demney: The right-hander made the move to Double-A in the second half of the 2012 season, where he was 6-8 with a 5.46 ERA. Demney was used as a starter in 23 of his 28 appearances. He had been called upon 10 times in the AFL through Thursday, making one start and posting a 3.94 ERA.

Cole Kimball: The righty, who turned 27 in August, has bounced around the Nats' Minor League system -- with a brief callup in 2011 -- since he was a 12th-round pick (385th overall) in 2006. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound hurler has alternated between starting and relief roles. At his latest stop, Double-A Harrisburg, Kimball appeared in only one game. In his 12 appearances with the Nationals last season, he was 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in 12 games, striking out 11 batters in 14 innings and holding opposing hitters to a .174 average. For the Rafters in the AFL, his ERA was 4.85 in 13 innings over 10 appearances as a reliever. He was also in the AFL in 2010.

Ryan Perry: The right-hander was on the 2009 Opening Day roster for the Detroit Tigers, who selected him in the first round (21st overall) in the 2008 Draft. Perry was traded to the Nationals for Collin Balester following the '11 season. Perry has had four stints in the Major Leagues, most recently with the Nats this past season, where he was 1-0 in seven appearances, but also had a hefty 10.13 ERA. In the Minors in '12, he was turned into a starter at Double-A Harrisburg, where he was 2-4 with a 2.84 ERA. In six AFL starts, he is 2-0 with a 4.98 ERA.

Washington Nationals