As the 2011 Draft draws closer, MLBTR will be introducing you to a handful of the top eligible prospects with a series of Q&As. The series includes four of the top college pitchers in the nation and a top college position player. Here's another position player to watch.
Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon is considered the top college position player in the 2011 draft and he remains a candidate to be the first overall pick this June. Both Baseball America and ESPN.com have reported within the week that it appears Rendon will either go first overall (to the Pirates) or second (to the Mariners) with UCLA right-hander Gerrit Cole going to the other team.
Rendon entered the season as the top prospect in the draft after being named Baseball America's Player of the Year in 2010 and the publication's Freshman of the Year in 2009. Ankle and shoulder injuries have slowed Rendon down this year and limited his time at third base, where he is considered an excellent defender. The 20-year-old Houston native shines at the plate as well and has a .350/.552/.552 line with 62 walks so far this season.
I spoke to Rendon earlier today about his injuries, the team he rooted for growing up and the hype surrounding the draft. Here's a transcript of our conversation:
Ben Nicholson-Smith - Not to start off on a bad note, but I’ve got to ask you about your injuries. Your ankle and your shoulder injuries - have those been the biggest challenges that you’ve had to face as a player this year?
Anthony Rendon - Yeah, definitely. You want to keep on playing the game that you love, so it’s always going to be on your mind, but it’s part of being a player - actually getting over those injuries to be stronger when you come back and I feel like I’m doing that.
BNS - How are you feeling now?
AR - I feel good. The ankle’s fine. I’m still on my throwing program with my arm, so I’m just trying to get it back stronger so I can go back 100% on the field and not have to worry about it down the road.
BNS - Is that the goal - just to be able to go out there and basically relax?
AR - Oh yeah, definitely. That’s a whole part of the game. When you play you’re supposed to be relaxed, you’re not supposed to be tense out there and you’re not supposed to be thinking about too many things. If you think about things too much, you’re not going to be as great as you can be because you can forget about other aspects of the game and it can hurt you in the long run or you might make an errors.
BNS - One of the things I hear a lot is that you’re a strong defender. How do you go about preparing defensively and improving yourself on the field?
AR - I like to get loose out there, I like to get free out there, but at the same time, you’ve got to be prepared so you can read the hops and stuff like that. I like to take practice seriously and I like to have fun out there and just focus on little things because when little things add up - just keeping your head down on a ground ball or keeping a free hand on top to guard against bad hops - those little things add up.
BNS - A few years ago the Braves drafted you and you were a 27th rounder back then. It’s pretty apparent that the industry sees you as a completely different player now than you were back then, but do you see yourself differently?
AR - I do see myself differently. I’ve changed physically and mentally. Back in high school I was probably about 5’10” and 165 pounds and I’ve grown since then [Rice's website lists him at 6'0", 190 pounds] because we’ve got such a great strength program. And ... it’s not only the physical, but the mental aspects, too. Handling the problems that may arise, the different issues and the different aspects of the game. I’ve learned the game a lot more. I can kind of predict what’s going to happen next or what the other team’s going to do in a certain situation, so I’ve actually started to appreciate the game more and learn the ins and outs of the game instead of just going out there and playing.
BNS - Are you in touch with any of the guys who have come through [the Rice] program like David Aardsma or Lance Berkman? Any of the current big leaguers who went through the same things that you did?
AR - It’s not that much, but I’ll talk to Berkman every now and then ... we’ll talk about baseball and he’ll just keep us laughing the whole time. [He has gone through] pretty much the same thing as what we’re going through now, so we just talk about the game and how he is and how the program is.
BNS - Were you an Astros fan growing up, coming from Houston?
AR - Yeah, definitely. They’re the hometown team. They haven’t always been the greatest team, so some of the years you get mad at them because they haven’t done so well, but deep down they’re the hometown team.
I remember growing up, watching [Jeff] Bagwell and his weird stance and [Richard] Hidalgo and his arm in right and left field. I definitely enjoyed watching the Astros growing up. My Dad would take my brother and I - though I only went to one game at the Astrodome [before the Astros moved].
BNS - In terms of talking to guys like Berkman, have they given you any advice about the draft, because it’s obviously going to be a different experience for you this year than it was a few years ago.
AR - You know the funny thing is you try not to worry about the draft too much, so that hasn’t been a topic that we’ve talked about. But the people that I’ve talked with say ‘just take it one step at a time.’
One of the things one person told me was ‘don’t let your highs get too high or your lows get too low.’ It’s just baseball, it’s just a game. With the draft if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
BNS - Are you trying to embrace all of this coverage and all of this buzz or are you trying to ignore it as much as possible?
AR - I mean you can’t ignore it with everything out there and it is a lifelong dream to play professional baseball so it’s not just that I can’t ignore it, I don’t want to ignore it. It’s what I want to do. I want to play baseball, it’s why I’ve been playing for the last 17 years of my life. So you can’t ignore it and if anybody tells you differently they’re lying. But you can’t get ahead of yourself and I’m not in the pros. If it happens, it happens. I can’t get ahead of myself and think about pro ball right now. We’re still trying to make it to the College World Series.
BNS - In terms of developing as a player, what are your goals for the rest of this season and potentially further on? What kinds of improvements might you want to make?
AR - I want to get faster. I tell everybody that. I’ve never been the fast guy on the field, so I want to bring a little speed.
And obviously I’ve got to treat my body better or something like that. Drink more milk or something. I’ve been injured for the past year, so maybe I should start taking some vitamins or something. I think I can take care of my body more, because I don’t want to be known as the guy who’s injury-prone. I don’t want to be that guy, I just want to be a reliable guy that plays every day.
BNS - What about all the walks that you’re drawing? I know they’re pitching around you, but how do walks fit into your offensive game?
AR - It definitely has a big impact. I mean I’m not trying to walk. As a hitter, I want to hit the ball every time I go up there, so that’s what I’m looking forward to doing. But it definitely plays a big part in my game.
Once you get so many walks, you can’t get into that rhythm. If they walk you intentionally one at bat and you only see four balls outside, you can’t get a read on his arm angle or pick up little tendencies, so you really get out of rhythm.
BNS - Have you allowed yourself to think about what you’re going to do on the day of the draft?
AR - We’re going to be playing baseball actually, so I can’t be worried about the draft, we’re going to have a game to win!