Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon: Who would you choose?


Anthony Rendon watches the flight of the ball after getting a hit.
Anthony Rendon has superstar potential, but he’s not at Bryce Harper’s level yet. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Anthony Rendon has been the focus of attention in DC recently, but will Bryce Harper‘s return put him in the shade?

As the Nationals season continues to bump along near the bottom of expectations, toing and froing with the .500 mark, the thoughts of fans are gradually starting to turn to issues besides whether or not they can emulate the great 2012 season.

One consolation for the team being so bad when it first moved to D.C was early draft picks in the following years. Those picks have stocked the system with young talent and have led me to a question I’ve been giving some serious thought. If I were starting a franchise tomorrow and could pick either the first overall pick in 2010 Bryce Harper or sixth overall pick in 2011 Anthony Rendon from the Nats, which would I choose?

Last year, questions centered on the choice between Mike Trout and Harper, that’s certainly what many fantasy drafts looked like this year. Ever since Harper ran into the wall in Los Angeles and injured his knee against the Orioles, though, doubts over his health and Rendon’s impressive early showing in the majors have changed the focus of thinking.

I’ll say, at the start, there are small sample sizes involved in both these players, even Harper only has 775 PAs in his 183 games since being called up early last season and there is no doubt that both have the potential to be monsters for the next 10 years.

At the plate, Harper has some serious power. Ian Desmond could only draw level with him for the team lead in home runs this season on Thursday night, and that’s after Harper has been out for a month. Hitting for an average of .274 while slugging .501 is an imperious start to a career, and his OPS currently stands at .851.

Rendon has only made 107 PAs in his two spells with the big-league club this year but has made a promising start, recording an average of .354 while slugging .485. His power is yet to fully develop, having hit just a solitary home run this year, with just under one third of his hits going for extra bases. He’s recorded a WAR of 0.7 in his first 26 games.

One of the questions hanging over Harper is his ability to field his position. Having been converted  from a catcher to an outfielder he started well, but then misjudged a fly ball in L.A. which led to him running into a wall, and later in the road trip he flinched before the warning track, allowing a ball to go over his head and costing the Nats the victory.

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Anthony Rendon also finds he’s playing an unfamiliar position at second base, but he has impressed so far, especially when turning his 10 double plays. Rendon has a fielding percentage of .924 compared to the .976 of Harper. The plus point for Rendon is he’ll be playing his natural position at third base sooner rather than later, while Harper will play his entire career in the outfield, something he is going to have to get used to.

The unknown factor in all of this is health. Obviously something can happen at any time, but the fact that Harper has already missed more than a month of play this year and has had Cortizone injected into his knee gives a slight cause for concern. We won’t find out whether this has a long-term effect for a while, but it certainly puts doubt in my mind whether Harper will be able to be the dominant base runner he has been up to this point stealing 20 of 28 attempts.

When Harper first came up, he had everything, power, speed and a hose of an arm, which meant few third base coaches would take him on. We haven’t seen him playing at his full potential since he ran into the wall, and the question remains as to whether his short rehab stint in Harrisburg will be enough to put him back into his April and May form. Anthony Rendon wasn’t seen as being particularly dominant in any area, but rather a steady hand in all aspects, with the potential to be a star at the hot corner.

So, who would I take? Right now it would be Bryce Harper, but there is no doubt that if his health goes down the same route as that other great Nats hopeful Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon is more than capable of stepping into the shoes.

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