There have been some, including Mark Zuckerman of NatsInsider.com, that are calling for Anthony Rendon to help infuse the reigning NL East champion Washington Nationals with more talent and fresh life, perhaps as early as this spring. After all, he was considered to be the most major league-ready bat in the 2011 draft when the Nats selected him sixth overall.
I am not in that group.
Since being drafted, Rendon has failed both to stay on the field and solidify himself at a position other than third base.
There are few who believe that Rendon can't be a solid major league third baseman, but he's not going to get a chance to do that in Washington with Ryan Zimmerman manning the hot corner for the better part of the next decade. If the Nationals want to work Rendon's bat into their major league lineup, they'll have to work him in elsewhere.
That elsewhere is still an open ended question. There are some who believe he can play at second base and he has dabbled at the position as a professional. That's where his bat would play the best, but he's currently blocked there in the majors by Danny Espinosa and Steve Lombardozzi (who the organization loves). Espinosa and Lombardozzi aren't the cornerstone of the franchise the way Zimmerman is, so if Rendon proves he's ready to be in the majors and can play second base, he could push them off the position, but that's not happening in 2013 unless one or both gets hurt. Espinosa could be eventually traded (or shortstop Ian Desmond could be traded and Espinosa could slide over) and Lombardozzi could be relegated to the super-utility role he's probably best suited for, but those moves have not yet been discussed.
The reason for that is, despite his hitting abilities, Rendon simply needs more time in the minors. He's only been able to stay on the field for 133 minor league at-bats in two seasons, plus a stint in the Arizona Fall League this October. Sure, he was a polished college bat when he was drafted, but he's still essentially the same player, experience-wise. He also has virtually no experience at any of the positions he may play in the majors.
That's why he shouldn't make the Nationals roster out of spring training, and shouldn't be called up even if their is an injury to fill unless he's had time to learn the position he will be playing.
Unlike other players whose best skill is in their bat (like Dustin Ackley was when he was drafted out of North Carolina), Rendon has moderate power potential and a great eye at the plate. That makes him less of a risk to flop. Even if his power never develops and he doesn't hit .300, he could still post above-average on-base percentages and be a strong two hitter.
But even if he does hit his power ceiling, he likely doesn't profile as a strong bat at first base, so his best bet to give the Nationals the most value is to learn second base or left field. The Nationals outfield is pretty clogged at the moment, so if he wants to make it to the majors with his current organization, it will likely be at second base.
Rendon should start the 2013 in Triple-A, making him just a phone call away from the majors, but that phone call shouldn't come until his bat and glove are ready. The only question is which will come first.