The Nationals have been able to watch recent Arizona Fall League seasons with some interest. That was where both pitcher Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper spent time acclimatizing to pro ball. It's that way again this season with infielder Anthony Rendon, the No. 6 pick in the 2011 draft from Rice University and widely considered the best hitter coming out of college that season.
You have to take any hitting stats with a grain of salt given the dry Arizona air and the altitude at some stadiums. And while the competition among the six teams is generally older -- loads of Double-A prospects -- there are talented younger players in place, too. It's an intriguing mix that gives clubs a chance to see their top prospects against stiff competition and provides those players extra at-bats in October and early November.
Those at-bats are something that Rendon desperately needs. The only reason he slipped to Washington at No. 6 last year was because of a checkered injury history to his right shoulder in 2011 and right ankle earlier (torn ligaments in 2009 and a fracture in 2010). That didn't change when two games into his first full pro season at Single-A Potomac in April he partially fractured his left ankle. Rendon managed just 133 at-bats in 2012 across four different levels in Washington's minor league system, and he struggled at Double-A Harrisburg upon his return (.162 batting average).
It's a work-in-progress. So far Rendon, 22, is just 7-for-33 in the AFL for the Salt River Rafters. He is playing third base, a position the organization wants to keep him at for now even with Ryan Zimmerman entrenched there for the foreseeable future. Rendon has six walks and eight strikeouts.
- Brian McNally