Anthony Rendon is the presumptive #1 overall pick in the 2011 Amateur Draft, and the Orioles, currently the worst team in the majors, are in a prime position to have the #1 overall pick. This is particularly true because the Orioles have the third-toughest schedule in baseball and the toughest in the American League in the second half; even if the Orioles improve their play, they could well end up with the worst record in the majors.
But while the hype for Rendon is growing, it has yet to reach Bryce Harper levels, and he remains something of an unknown at the national level. Who is Anthony Rendon, and is he worth the acclaim?
The 5'11 Rendon was a star shortstop for Lamar High School in his native Houston, leading his team to the District 20-5A championship in 2007 as a junior and being selected as the First team 5A all-state shortstop as a senior in 2008. Rendon hoped to be selected in the fifth or sixth round of the 2008 draft, but fell all the way to the Atlanta Braves in the 27th round. The Braves flew him out to Georgia to play in a wood bat tournament, but didn't like what they saw enough to offer him first day money, so Rendon went to school in the fall in his hometown for the Rice Owls. Rice coach Wayne Graham, who appeared in thirty games in the majors as a third baseman, thought that Rendon had the kind of defensive skills that would make him a plus defender at the hot corner.
What Graham didn't expect, and what no one really expected, was Rendon's immediate offensive impact. Rendon started every game at third base for the Owls as a true freshman, and hit .388/.496/.702 with twenty home runs. Those numbers led to a barrage of accolades; Rendon was named National Freshman of the Year, All-American, Freshman All-American, Conference USA Player of the Year, and MVP of the Conference USA All-Tournament Team. He was a national semifinalist as well for the Golden Spikes Award and the Dick Howser Award. Rendon proved not only to be a special talent as a freshman, but highly durable, playing the first 534.2 consecutive innings of the season for the Owls and in over 98% of the total innings for the season.
Rendon returned for his sophomore year with the burden of lofty expectations, and exceeded all of them. This past season, Rendon hit .394/.530/.801 with twenty-six home runs for the Owls while playing superb defense at third and even spending some time back at his high school position of shortstop. Rendon was once again named Conference USA Player of the Year, was named Baseball America's National Player of the Year (becoming only the second player, after Robin Ventura, to be named Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year in consecutive seasons and only the third sophomore to win the award after Ventura, John Olerud, and Mark Teixeira) and two weeks ago was named the Dick Howser Award winner as college baseball's player of the year, an award whose three most recent recipients were David Price, Buster Posey, and Stephen Strasburg. Just a few days before, Houston Mayor Annise Parker proclaimed June 29th "Anthony Rendon Day".
Rendon is not merely a great producer, however; he also draws raves for his tools. ESPN's Keith Law wrote:
(Rendon) has one of the best swings I've seen on a college hitter, with excellent hip rotation and strong, quick hands. He pairs it with good pitch recognition and a patience that's born both of a good eye and the fact that opposing pitchers don't want to pitch to him right now. He taps his front foot twice and gets it down a little late, but everything about his transfer and swing is quick and forceful enough that it doesn't seem to affect him against college pitching. His plate coverage is good, and he can shorten his swing to square up a ball up in the zone.
Rendon is spending the summer before his junior year playing for Team USA's Collegiate National Team, joining several other of the top names for the 2011 draft, including Jackie Bradley Jr. and Gerritt Cole. Team USA has, over the years, featured many of the top names in baseball, including Ryan Howard, Barry Larkin, Tino Martinez, Dustin Pedroia, David Price, Huston Street, Mark Teixeira, Troy Tulowitzki, Jason Varitek, and Ryan Zimmerman. Team USA's schedule has them playing exhibitions this month in North Carolina and Nebraska, before they head to Taiwan for a series of exhibitions and then to Tokyo, where the FISU World University Baseball Championships will take place in the beginning of August. Yesterday, in Team USA's first action against another team, Rendon singled, walked, stole a base, and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. Live video of tonight and tomorrow's games against South Korea will be available on Team USA's website with Baseball America's John Manuel and Aaron Fitt calling the action. You can also take a look at video of Rendon at bat thanks to SB Nation's Andy Seiler.
There is still a lot of summer baseball left for Rendon, as well as his junior year at Rice. But as you can see, few players in the history of college baseball have ever matched his production to date, and those who have were some of the best draft picks in recent history. It will be difficult for anyone to exceed Rendon's potential and take away the #1 spot in next year's draft from him; all Rendon has to prove is that he can keep doing what he has been since he arrived on campus at Rice.