Countdown to the draft: Rendon to the Pirates at #1?

Anthony Rendon's bat and glove have piqued the Pirates' interests. (Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire)

In the second part of a series analyzing the Pittsburgh Pirates options with the #1 pick in the 2011 draft, we take a look at Rice 3B Anthony Rendon.

Anthony Rendon is having a down season in 2011. The Rice third baseman’s stat line is down to .350/.552/.552 this season with a 62/22 BB/K ratio. This, folks, is considered a bad year for the player that has been the consensus #1 draft prospect since last summer.

Rendon is as complete of a hitter as there is in this year’s draft class. This season’s stat line is down from a .394/.539/.801 line with 26 home runs in 2010, Rendon’s breakout season at Rice. He has all of the tools necessary to be successful against major league pitching and features an above-average glove at the hot corner.

What makes Rendon most appealing is his ability to hit. He’s got a body built to swing for power, with a large chest and broad shoulders, but his swing is not the ideal single-motion swing you see is most power hitters (skip ahead to the :50 mark). Rather, you can see two distinct motions in Rendon’s swing — first, he locks in with his legs, then begins to rotate his upper body to come around on the pitch. More interestingly, he has a foot tap in his swing before he plants his lead foot firmly. He’ll bring his left foot forward, tap it once on the ground, then lift and replant it as he begins to bring his upper body around. It’s an interesting quirk that you don’t see often. This video may better highlight his swing.

While it sounds as though Rendon has a swing that needs work, it really does not. In fact, he makes his swing work in such as way that it benefits him immensely at the plate. During the first movement of his swing (the legs locking in), Rendon is also getting the bat into an optimum position for power. As the ball is coming, he levels his hands out and is able to come through the strike zone with immense bat speed. Because he comes through the zone so quickly, he is able to sit back on pitches longer than most other hitters, giving him more time to identify whats coming. As I said, his swing sounds odd, but he puts it together very well, mechanically, to the point that he controls the plate and strike zone rather than the pitcher.

In addition to his spectacular bat, Rendon also carries an above-average glove. He’s quick to react and is athletic enough to handle duties as an everyday third baseman in the major leagues. His arm strength leaves nothing to question either, as he has no problem getting the ball from third-to-first on any given play.

Part of the reason Rendon’s numbers have suffered this season is because he’s being intentionally walked in nearly one of every two at-bats. Obviously, it’s hard to boost his stat line if he’s not being pitched too, but, unfortunately, that has been only part of the reason. The other is a shoulder injury that just won’t go away. Rendon recently said in an interview with that it is only a tweak, actually a result of overcompensating in an attempt to avoid injury, but shoulder injuries are nothing to turn your head from with baseball players. Moreover, Rendon  also has suffered two major injuries to his left ankle within the past two years, though, in the same interview, he claims that they were freak injuries that have no correlation. Either way, an injury record such as Rendon’s may provide a reason to think twice before making this selection.

Fortunately for the Pirates, none of the injuries will serve to create any hindrance in Rendon’s long-term projections. Taking everything into consideration, Rendon is the type of power bat that the Pirates lack in their organization. He’s talented enough that he won’t need much seasoning in the minors; it won’t be too unrealistic to see him in majors by June of 2013. On the defensive side, Rendon would give the Pirates the exact flexibility they need with Pedro Alvarez. According to most scouting reports, including this one from Roto Prospects, Alvarez will outgrow third base sooner rather than later. In the end, he just isn’t athletic enough to project  long-term at the hot corner as well as he does at first base. Rendon, however, does project long-term here. As I’ve highlighted already, Rendon is more than athletic enough to play third base in the majors.

Rendon is the most complete hitter in the draft, and as it stands he should go with the #1 pick to the Pirates. Ultimately, it will come down to how the Pirates feel Alvarez projects at third base, as well as how confident they are in their organizational pitching depth. We’ll cover that topic in my next segment about UCLA’s Gerrit Cole.

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