As Jordan Zimmermann was working towards what he hoped would be a no-hitter on Friday night, Nats second baseman Anthony Rendon made several plays to keep it intact.
Rendon fielded hard hit balls to both his left and his right, and showed off the arm he used to showcase a lot more at third base during his college years. He's demonstrated improvement at the position and his manager has noticed.
"He’s farther along than I thought he was going to be," Davey Johnson, a former second baseman himself, said.
"His footwork’s really good around the bag, he’s still learning a little bit about positioning. He’s a good second baseman. I would classify him a little above average."
Johnson said Rendon has a good future at the position and that he's just learning to make the proper adjustments from game to game at the plate. He is hitting .263 this season with seven home runs and 34 RBI through 93 games.
When Rendon came out of Rice University in 2011, he was considered the best hitter in college baseball. Those skills haven't completely translated to the major league level, and Johnson thinks learning a new position is a factor in his development at the plate.
"I think it wears on you a little bit," he said. "You go through the league and with all the technology everybody has a pretty good scouting report on you, how to set you up and how to pitch to you."
"I think he’s just made the tip of the iceberg adjustments. I think he’ll know more about how to handle a lot of things as his career goes on."
Johnson thinks that with time Rendon can develop into a guy who hits 15 or 20 home runs a season. At 6-feet, 195 pounds he doesn't project as a slugger, but there is some power potential.
Rendon hit 12 home runs in 79 minor league games, which is about a 25 home run pace over the course of a full baseball season. Johnson thinks the power will come with time.
"He’s more of a line drive, doubles, average type. He knows the strike zone very well, tracks the ball well, can hit a fastball and a breaking ball. That’s a prerequisite of being a big league hitter, and a good one."
If Rendon can continue to improve, he gives the Nationals a solid option at second base. Then, if Ryan Zimmerman eventually moves to first base, he can retake his natural position at third. He has given them flexibility in the infield which is important with Adam LaRoche set to be a free agent after next year.
On the idea of Rendon becoming a permanent second baseman, Johnson wasn't ready to commit. He didn't mention his name, but the organization does have former second round pick Tony Renda on the fast track to the majors. He could be ready by this time next year or in 2015.
Johnson did throw out one name, though: Danny Espinosa.
"It depends on a lot of things. I’m still very high on Espinosa. I think he still, if he gets his thought process straight, he’s an awfully talented player also. And you can never have too many good, talented players."
Johnson is probably right about the last part, but Rendon sure looks like the second baseman of the Nats' foreseeable future.