Over the course of the next year, ESPN Insider will be releasing profiles of the top prospects in the 2011 MLB draft. Our first is Anthony Rendon, who many are predicting to be the top pick come June.
The way Anthony Rendon describes how he sees a baseball as it's traveling toward him at the plate -- literally, the way he sees the raised, red seams rotating at the nanosecond they're released from a pitcher's fingers -- you hear a hitter who, perhaps, doesn't fully comprehend the magnitude of his abilities. The Rice third basemen entering his junior year is almost baffled.
"It's weird. I can just see it really early," says Rendon. "I can just pick up the pitch, the spin, like, as the hand comes forward. I just feel like I get a really good view of it early, and it makes my reaction better."
If Rendon (pronounced with a long "O") is somewhat perplexed by this heightened perception ("I guess I just have really good eyes"), he hasn't let that stop him from profiting from it at the plate. The man who many, including Keith Law, are calling an early favorite to be the No. 1 pick in next year's draft, has put up prodigious numbers at the plate during his first two years of college ball. In 2009, as a freshman, he raked to the tune of .388 with 20 home runs, on his way to national Freshman of the Year. This past spring, he perked up to .396 with 26 home runs, which is impressive but doesn't begin to describe the work he's doing when he's not swinging. Scouts double-take at a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 65 to 22 and an OBP of .530. That Rendon can play eye-chart with the "Rawlings" printed on a spinning orb traveling at 90-plus miles per hour has helped him hit and become a well-rounded run producer, too.
Add in Gold Glove-caliber hands at third base, and the player who stayed local after hitting a respectable .570 as a Houston-area high school senior should have GMs chomping at the bit after he lays waste to college pitching for another year. "I'm just a reaction hitter," Rendon says. "I see it early and react. I wouldn't even want to know what's coming. It'd mess me up."
Others aren't so nonchalant about Rendon's talents, and in a sport where only about one of every 13 drafted players cracks a big league roster, even the most experienced of observers are predicting great things.
"He's got eye-popping, God-given abilities," says a long time National League scout. "He plays both sides of the game. The kid's capable of All-Stars, of MVPs."
"He's got a buggy-whip," says another NL talent evaluator. In other words, while his swing is fairly compact, Rendon's hand action and bat speed are such that the bat whips through the zone -- think Rickie Weeks, Gary Sheffield, Alfonso Soriano -- creating extra torque, and power that belies a short, not terribly stocky 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame. "He's still a little under-developed and could add power as he gains some maturity," says the scout. "But even then, he has all the physical abilities right now."
Rendon has never heard of the term "buggy whip" but admits his swing is not totally normal. His hands are moving as the pitch is delivered, and he loads them slightly while his body rocks back into its rhythm. What stands out about Rendon's approach is how loose it looks. The word "whip" sounds as though it's a product of a violent jerking forward of the hands and torso, but Rendon's swing is free and easy with good hip action. His approach can remind you a little of Evan Longoria, not necessarily in stance, but in the measured approach. His look against live pitching is almost indecipherable from batting practice, whereas many players barely re-set before the next pitch is on its way.
And Rendon doesn't like to mess with it. After a recent bad spell in the Team USA trials, he admitted maybe he'd consider a change here or there, but "I wasn't really seeing the ball like I usually do" -- which, given his earlier description, sounds like Bill Gates complaining about misplacing his checkbook -- "but I'm pretty stubborn with my approach in general."
Rendon's ease at the plate is mirrored in the field. Another talent evaluator from the NL West, sees him developing into a glove comparable to Scott Rolen's at third base, and his soft hands go well with plus range after a move from his high school position of shortstop. Rendon says he just tries "to knock it down and lob it over."
A scientific description, to be sure.
As for how quickly he could move through a system, Buster Posey might be a good comparison. With his selectivity, Rendon seems slump-proof, and scouts aren't worried about his move to wood from metal (neither is Rendon). Not with that bat speed and the likelihood that he'll continue to gain some strength.
And anyway, with Rendon, it's really about the eyes. Just watch the gaze. Seeing is believing.
Chris Sprow is a general editor at ESPN Insider; you can find his full online archives here.