The Mariners have the No. 2 overall choice in the draft on Monday, and might use it on Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon, who has been injured this season.
For Rice junior infielder Anthony Rendon, these are heady, yet tense, times.
His Rice Owls are in the NCAA regionals this weekend, fighting for a berth in the College World Series — a destination that has eluded him in two previous seasons.
Rendon, who began the season as the consensus No. 1 draft pick before injuries and diminished numbers clouded his status, has one final chance to convince scouts of his worthiness.
All that, and he turns 21 on Monday — which just happens to be the day the MLB draft will begin. And despite a season in which he hasn’t been as dominant as expected, it won’t take long before Rendon’s name is called — perhaps by the Mariners with the No. 2 overall pick.
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“I’m pretty anxious,” Rendon said in a midweek phone interview. “I want the process to be over with so I can go on with my personal career. It’s been pretty bad lately, with everyone asking where they think I’ll go. There’s a lot of anxiety.”
Well, since you mentioned it … where do you think you’ll go, Anthony?
“It doesn’t matter,” he replied. “I just want to go out and play baseball.”
In February, when the college baseball season began, Rendon seemed about as likely to be available to the Mariners at No. 2 as Stephen Strasburg two years earlier. As you recall, the Nationals never wavered on Strasburg, and the Mariners were left to take the top college hitter, Dustin Ackley.
But this time around, Rendon’s rocky season has made his selection as the No. 1 overall pick by the Pirates much less of a fait accompli. According to reports out of Pittsburgh, the Pirates have settled on UCLA right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole as their pick.
If Rendon, a third baseman, falls to the Mariner as expected, he would be hard to bypass, considering their dire need for offense. As a freshman at Rice, he hit .388 with 20 homers. Last year, he exploded for 26 homers, a .394 batting average, .530 on-base percentage and .801 slugging percentage. He won the Howser Trophy as the National Player of the Year.
This year, heading into Friday’s regional opener, Rendon was hitting .327 with a .523 on-base percentage (the latter figure helped considerably by an NCAA-leading 78 walks, indicative of a mindset by opponents to not let Rendon beat them). But he has hit just six homers, and his slugging percentage is .535.
All kinds of extenuating circumstances could weigh into the decision of the Mariners and other teams with a chance to draft Rendon.
You can’t throw out 2011 college statistics without noting that the NCAA has instituted new bat regulations this season designed to make the aluminum bats perform more like wood. As a result, offensive numbers are down markedly across the board, and home runs have declined some 40 percent.
“It’s changed things a lot,” Rendon said. “You can tell by the way teams are playing. Instead of waiting for their big guys to come up and hit home runs, they’re actually playing baseball — steals, hit and run. I like it.”
Rendon said there have been times this season he hit a ball he thought was a home run, only to have it die.
“There have definitely been a lot of those, especially at Rice,” he said. “They call it The Graveyard. I’ve squared up a lot of balls I thought were going to go out, and they were caught at the warning track.”
It is Rendon’s health, however, that has led to the biggest questions heading into the draft. In the 2009 Super Regionals he tore ligaments in his right ankle, and last July he suffered another right ankle injury while playing for Team USA, requiring surgery.
The ankle appears fine. Rice coach Wayne Graham says Rendon is running faster than he did before the injuries. But the bigger concern now is his right shoulder. He strained a muscle in the back of his shoulder early in the season and has been limited mostly to designated hitting duties. Last week, in Rice’s conference tournament, he played second base, partly to show scouts he was healthy enough to throw.
“It’s a little muscle strain,” Rendon said. “The doctor says I need rest and rehab and I’ll be fine. In the middle of our season, I don’t want to sit out and miss 20 or 30 games, so I’m fighting through it. Over the summer, I’ll strengthen it and rest it, and I’ll be good to go.”
There has been some mystique as to the status of Rendon’s medical records, and whether MLB teams will have a chance to review them before the draft. To which Rendon told The Seattle Times:
“I released them. I gave them to the scouting bureau. Instead of making 30 copies and sending them to 30 teams, I made one copy and gave them to the scouting bureau a couple of weeks ago. My parents and I mailed it. As far as I know, everything’s good.”
Frank Marcos, senior director of the MLB Scouting Bureau, which provides supplemental scouting services to all 30 teams, confirmed Friday that the bureau received medical information from Rendon pertaining to both to his ankle and shoulder. He said the information was provided to every ballclub.
“We got them from Anthony and got them out to the 30 clubs,” Marcos said. “We turn it around in a day or two.”
He said that the scouting bureau, as a matter of course, requests medical information from prospects with medical issues. What they receive can vary dramatically, however, and sometimes leaves teams desiring more information.
“We’ve gotten hundreds of pages on a kid’s surgery and medical visits, and sometimes we just get a note from the doctor,” Marcos said. “(Rendon’s) notes were very detailed, and we did provide that to the clubs.”
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik declined to discuss Rendon’s medical records or whether the team was seeking more information.
Graham, the Rice coach, had a somewhat ominous quote on Rendon’s injury in an Arizona Republic article last week.
“The muscle won’t heal until he gets enough rest,” Graham told the paper. “It might be something more, but it’s not something they can’t correct with surgery.”
However, Rendon said flatly, “I won’t need surgery.”
If Rendon goes to the Pirates, or the Mariners decide to pass on him, they could settle on one of two high-upside high-school players — Bubba Starling, an outfielder, or Francisco Lindor, a shortstop who worked out at Safeco Field on Thursday. Or they could select Cole, if Pittsburgh passes on him. High-school pitcher Dylan Bundy, UCLA right-hander Trevor Bauer and Virginia’s Danny Hultzen are others regarded as potential top-five picks.
But Rendon would seem to be a natural fit for the Mariners’ needs. Asked what he knows about Seattle, he said he was aware of the tall building “called Needlepoint or something.”
Close enough. A childhood friend of Rendon’s has moved to Seattle, as well as a friend of his cousin.
“They told me I already have a fan base,” he said.
On Monday, Rendon could have a much larger fan base in Seattle.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org