Sure, it's easy to look at the eight professional games Anthony Rendon played at second base before debuting there in the big leagues for the Washington Nationals and come to the conclusion that the team threw him into the position with no previous experience.
This ignores the years he spent at the position earlier in his career. Much earlier.
"When I was about six to eight [years old], six to nine, my younger years, I was always the smallest kid," Rendon told me when we chatted in front of his locker, prior to Wednesday night's Nationals game against the Mets. "And I didn't have the strongest arm in the field, so I couldn't play shortstop. Didn't make the good throw across. So they just threw me at second base. That's where I kind of learned, started playing the infield."
The circumstances are slightly different for Rendon's new tenure at second base this time around. He's 23 now, not six. He's playing the position in the major leagues, not Little League. Nor is the switch due to any physical limitations. Rendon now possesses a strong arm, and profiles as a major league third baseman. But the Nationals have this guy, Ryan Zimmerman, signed through 2019, and while first base may be Zimmerman's future home, that's at least another year or two away.
So the Nationals decided to play Rendon at second base instead. He'd played a handful of games there while starring at Rice University, but hadn't had extended time at the position until he was approached, in April 2013, with the idea while playing for Double-A Harrisburg. He alternated positions throughout the early season, a few games at third, then one at second, another few at third -- taking ground balls at the position he was to play that day -- before getting three straight at second base following a promotion to Triple-A Syracuse. Days later, he was in the big leagues, playing second for the Nationals from June on.
Rendon loves to play third. But he was well aware of the circumstances in the organization he's playing for, and viewed the change as an opportunity, not a problem. Nor was he surprised.
"I knew it was a possibility," Rendon said of the position switch. "Coming up in the minor leagues, you want to get up to the highest level possible, and you want to play any position possible. So I was ready to play outfield, ready to play catcher, ready to play first base, ready to play anywhere I could when I got up here. And I guess I landed on second base."
What's been fascinating to watch, regarding Rendon, is that his natural desire to get to the big leagues as quickly as possible, and into the lineup by any means necessary, is obviously shared by the Nationals as well. Rendon was the sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft, but didn't begin playing professionally until 2012. And he's logged a total of 79 minor league games. It's not as if Rendon languished in the minor leagues.
Moreover, this doesn't speak to a dearth of overall talent on the team that won 86 last year and 98 in 2011, nor at the positions where Rendon fits best, with Zimmerman at third and Danny Espinosa, an elite defender, looking more like his healthy self this season after a rough 2013.
The general consensus is, Rendon's bat is going to be that good.
"He's one of the better hitters in terms of strike zone discipline, swinging at good pitches. I don't know the stats on it, but I'm sure he's pretty high at percent of pitches swung at in the strike zone," his double-play partner, Ian Desmond, told me by his locker prior to Wednesday's game.
Desmond had the stats right, by the way. Rendon swung at 21.3 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, good for fourth-best in baseball last year among players with at least 350 plate appearances. Desmond noted how much stronger Rendon looks this year than he did at the end of the 2013 season, one in which it should be noted Rendon still managed to provide roughly league average production while learning second base in real time.
"The work he put in this offseason is fantastic," Desmond said. "I think he put on 15 pounds of muscle, which, I don't know if you saw him last year, but he was a pretty little guy. He looked little, skinny. After his first season, it's long, I think he was probably a little worn down. But he looks great.
"I think he's just a good hitter," Desmond continued. "He's hit everywhere he's been. I don't think he's ever had an off year in his life. It's just a gift. He's got an unbelievable eye, hands, good swing. The hitch kind of reminds me of Zimmerman when he was younger. I saw Zimmerman when he first signed, and the resemblances are there."
Accordingly, there wasn't much of anything Rendon put into place to alter his mechanics this winter. If the raw slash line -- .265/.329/.396 -- merely hinted at his potential, things like that selectivity, and a process that led to line drives on his batted balls more than a quarter of the time, suggested that the approach is working just fine.
"I'm not too worried about the numbers," Rendon said. "I squared up a lot of baseballs last year at the plate. I'm just trying to barrel up the ball. If I barrel up the ball with the bat, make hard contact, I'm happy with that at-bat. It's a successful at-bat, the best chance I could with getting a hit off that pitcher."
So instead, he spent the winter getting stronger. He pointed out that "it's called the offseason for a reason, you've got to get your mind off baseball for a little bit." Then Rendon went to work at his offseason home in Houston.
"Ben Fairchild, my trainer back home, and I wanted to put on as much muscle mass as possible, get stronger for the season, since last season was my first full professional season, and the longevity of the season -- experiencing that, and realizing it's a very long season, it's a grind on your body," Rendon said. "So he knows that as well. And we put together a nice meal plan, a good workout regimen, try to put on as much mass as possible."
Rendon's meal plan comes prepared, based on a calorie count, with specifics on what to eat and when to eat it. It's the kind of thing that helps during a long season, when players don't have the time or inclination to cook for themselves.
"You just heat it up in the microwave when you get home," Rendon said. "Instead of going home, taking out the cooking stuff, put it in the pan, all that stuff." Rendon's specialties -- he says he makes "a mean spaghetti"-- will be put aside for now.
So will third base, with Rendon focusing his attention on getting better at second this season, taking pregame reps there. Interestingly, the man tasked with getting Rendon ready for the position, manager Matt Williams, spent the bulk of his career not at second, but at third base.
Of course, Williams did play three games -- one in 1987, two in 1988 -- at second for the Triple-A Phoenix Firebirds. Rendon was surprised to hear it.
"I guess I've got to ask him about that," Rendon said, laughing. "Like, how you gonna hold that back from me?"
The partnership is one that not only clicked immediately, according to all who are witnessing it, but has a history, too.
"He's been awesome," Rendon said. "I actually had a little taste of him, he was my manager in the [2012 Arizona] Fall League. And he's really hands-on.
"He has this little drill that he does that I love, actually, where he hits fungos, one-hoppers at you. You're on your knees on the outfield grass, but you're still on the dirt. And it's a picking drill. You make sure you get your glove angle -- he tells us to be doing it like tweezers. Soft, and just tweezing the ball. He first taught me that in Arizona -- I was like 'Hey, it makes sense!' So I've actually been doing that more often now."
Rendon said he kept that in mind throughout his 2013 season, even without Williams around.
"And then we're doing this in spring training, and it was like, 'Hey, I've done this before!'," Rendon said, smiling.
And while Williams may not have had Roberto Alomar's career at second base, his time as a natural third baseman with experience at second allows him to know precisely the difficulties Rendon will face making such a leap.
"When you play on one side of the diamond, and you move to the other, it's not as easy as people think it is," Williams said Wednesday during his pregame interview session. "Because everything's backwards... So I understand, when he wants to turn to his left, and all of the sudden he's got to turn to his right to make a throw, it's wrong, according to what he's played all these years.
"But he works hard at it. There were a lot of early sessions this spring, there's going to continue to be sessions during the season, when we get a chance. He's improving. He's getting better at it."
Desmond, too, says he's noticed Rendon's defensive evolution.
"He's made a lot of great plays at second base," Desmond said. "He made a pretty unbelievable play the other day," referring to a diving stop Rendon made on Monday.
Oh, and he also homered to ice that game. Then he went out and got two hits on Wednesday night. As Williams acknowledged, the only real question Rendon has to answer is how well he can play the field at his new spot.
Or as Desmond put it, "There's no reason to doubt he'll hit. He's got it, man. You watch him play for a week, you'll see it."
Rendon, for his part, can't point to a specific moment where it all clicked in the field. But he says he feels like a second baseman this year, rather than a third baseman moonlighting at second.
"I don't know if there's a certain game," Rendon said. "I think it's just being out there. It doesn't hit you, like, one out, bottom of the fifth, this ground ball, oh I'm comfortable now!", he said, laughing. "I think just being out there, and the next thing you know, you're not worrying about things. You're just going out there, playing baseball.
"And I think I got that, near the end of the season last year. Okay, I'm out there, and I'm not worrying about things, overthinking things, oh, I've gotta do this, I've gotta do that. It's a little more natural. I'm used to taking that route to that ball now. I'm used to lining up in that position on a ball hit to the outfield. So it's a much more natural basis now, it's muscle memory, it's getting more comfortable there."
Kind of like how it was for little Anthony Rendon, back in Little League.
"It's kind of funny how I started here," Rendon said of playing second. "And now I've ended up back here. Kind of funny little twist."