Photo courtesy of Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects
A year ago, the question "Who is the best talent in the 2011 draft?" was rhetorical. Of course it was the sophomore third baseman from Rice sporting an eye-popping K/BB rate, a batting line of .394/.530/.801 and the scouting reports to back it all up. There were people falling over one another to be the first to call him a better prospect than the most highly touted draft phenom in baseball history, Bryce Harper. It was not a case of being down on Harper – it is hard to be down on an 18 year old with 80 grade power who just wrecked JuCo ball – rather a realization that Anthony Rendon's talents warranted such laudations. He may not have projected to hit for the same kind of power, but the hit tool was better, the plate discipline was more advanced and the future defensive value also tilted in his favor.
A few months later, Rendon's summer would end prematurely after breaking his ankle during Team USA's second game – the same ankle in which he tore ligaments at the end of his freshman year. He made a full recovery in time for the start of his junior season only to injure his shoulder during the second week of the year. The once slam dunk #1 talent has spent the rest of the season limited to Designated Hitter, posting relatively underwhelming power numbers. His prospect status has taken a bit of a hit as a result with analysts more often than not calling Gerrit Cole and Dylan Bundy superior prospects. The timing seems ripe for me to make the case for Anthony Rendon as the best player in this class.
As great as Cole and Bundy are, I have a hard time buying into either as the more talented player. Admittedly most of my 2011 looks at Rendon – about 7 games in total – were at the beginning of the year, but what I observed has me convinced that he is still Anthony Rendon. The shoulder injury is being blamed for his somewhat underwhelming offensive numbers with some saying it has affected his bat speed. If that's the case, his bat speed must have been completely off the charts prior to this year as the player I saw certainly had no shortage in that area of his game. Indeed, he has some of the most impressive bat speed that I have ever seen at this level, making up for his lack of physicality; it is not hard to see above-average power at the major league level. Rendon has been pitched around all season, and I believe that is the biggest contributor to his stunted power output. His plate discipline, hand-eye coordination and pitch recognition are excellent; however, Rendon occasionally went after a pitch just out of the zone in an effort to provide something other than a base on balls, usually resulting in a fairly easy out for the pitcher. When he finally got a pitch he could drive, it left the field of play with celerity.
It is easy to forget that Rendon played third base during the first series of the year against Stanford. His speed looked completely unaffected by the past ankle injuries, and he showed the same impressive range that we have come to expect. He moves well to both sides and charges slow ground balls down the third base line very well. Buster Olney tweeted on Monday that he has "spoken with more teams that project Anthony Rendon as a second baseman, rather than third baseman, because of body type, arm concerns."  Unless the shoulder injury is structural in nature and a long term concern, that would be a monumental mistake. He has everything necessary to be an elite level defender at third base.
The injuries have been exceedingly inconvenient, certainly affecting his value to Rice, but long term, we are looking at the same player as we were a year ago. He has the highest ceiling in this draft – some will certainly disagree with that opinion – while also having the best chance to reach it. The case for anyone else must be made on that player raising his stock to Rendon's level rather than Rendon coming back to the field.