ATLANTA -- Long before he became recognized in Atlanta as a key figure for a division rival, Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon was a young Texas native whose appreciation for Chipper Jones led him to begin switch-hitting and aspiring to one day interact with the Braves' Hall of Fame third
ATLANTA -- Long before he became recognized in Atlanta as a key figure for a division rival, Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon was a young Texas native whose appreciation for Chipper Jones led him to begin switch-hitting and aspiring to one day interact with the Braves' Hall of Fame third baseman.
"It would've been pretty awesome, not to say like take over [third base] after him, but just to be there with him and meet him and be able to pick his brain or whatever it might be," Rendon said. "So that would've been a pretty neat experience."
Rendon nearly realized this experience when, on his 18th birthday, the Braves selected him in the 27th round of the 2008 Draft. Having just graduated from Houston's Lamar High School, the young infielder had to deal with the fact that his size and signability concerns led him to be selected at least 20 rounds later than expected.
But as Rendon contemplated fulfilling his commitment to play collegiately in his hometown at Rice University, the Braves courted him much more aggressively than the normal late-round pick. The team brought him to the Atlanta area in late June of that year to play for a team they fielded within a Perfect Game tournament.
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"He's playing against top competition from around the country, using a wood bat, and I think he went 10-for-12 with like nine doubles," said Roy Clark, a Braves special advisor and scouting guru. "We knew he could hit, but didn't know he could hit like that. We were scrambling for enough money. We were trying to stay firm within the slotting and just couldn't come up with enough money."
Rendon provided a similar account of what transpired during the weeks following the 2008 Draft.
"We told them a number and said, 'This is where we want to be,'" Rendon said. "They're like, 'All right, come play in front of our scouts.' ... I did that, tore it up. I got out once and then basically nothing."
While serving as the Braves' scouting director in 2008, Clark could not come up with the $750,000 signing bonus sought by Rendon, who then preceded to go to Rice and establish himself as one of the country's elite collegiate prospects. He won the 2010 Dick Howser Award, which is given to college baseball's player of the year.
So needless to say, three years later, while now employed by the Nationals to oversee the 2011 Draft, Clark jumped at the opportunity to take Rendon with the sixth overall selection and provided him a $6 million bonus that included a $7.2 million guarantee.
"We basically gave him one more zero than he was looking for coming out of high school and he's been worth every dime," said Clark, who rejoined the Braves organization after the 2014 season.
Now in his sixth Major League season, Rendon has already earned two top 10 MVP Award finishes, a Silver Slugger Award (2014) and a Comeback Player of the Year Award. His 20.5 fWAR ranks eighth among all third basemen dating back to 2013 -- his debut season.
Since Jones retired after the 2012 season, the Braves have attempted to find stability at third base on an annual basis. This provides more reason to wonder what might have been had they come up with the money necessary for Rendon to have that chance to replace his childhood idol.
"Unfortunately in this game, you learn more from mistakes than your successes," Clark said. "You obviously think about whether you did everything you could to make that player sign. My only regret besides not signing Rendon [in 2008] was not having him sign me a dozen baseballs."
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.