Associated Press file photo
Anthony Rendon played in only 43 games last season due to injury.
The Nationals' top-rated prospect hasn't made it through a full year without some sort of injury since high school. There was an ankle injury in 2009 during the final game of his rookie season at Rice University. Then another ankle injury in 2010 while playing in an international competition. Then a nagging shoulder injury in 2011 that made his draft stock plummet and allowed him to fall to Washington at No. 6.
Then, in his first professional season, a freak fractured ankle in his first week with Class A Potomac, sidelining him four months.
Some might bristle when asked about that injury-prone label being thrust upon them. Rendon laughs it off.
"Everybody has their own opinion, so I can't knock them," he said. "I'm pretty sure if I were in their shoes, I'd probably feel the same way about a player who's had all the injury history I've had."
What else can Rendon do at this point but shrug his shoulders and convince himself this will be the year he manages to avoid the disabled list and take a major step forward in his development?
The 6-foot, 195-pound third baseman feels great as camp opens, the ankle completely healed, the shoulder no longer an issue. When he takes hacks in the batting cage, he still boasts perhaps the smoothest, effort-free swing in the entire organization.
Rendon may have played in only 43 minor-league games during the regular season and posted suspect numbers -- .233 average, six homers, 12 RBI -- but he was 100 percent healthy during the Arizona Fall League and excelled, hitting .338 with a .930 OPS in 22 games.
"It was nice to salvage last year a little bit," he said. "Coming back and playing the last month, it gave me a kick-start before the Fall League. It really gave me a boost of confidence, let me know I can come back again from an injury."
Rendon figures to open the season back at Class AA Harrisburg, where he hit .162 in September. He's slated to begin the year at his natural third base position, but the Nationals are having him work out at both second base and shortstop this spring, recognizing there's a good chance he'll need to switch positions once ready for the big leagues (with Ryan Zimmerman locked up through at least 2019).
He's been perfectly willing to learn the nuances of the other positions, but tries not to think too far down the road about how he could be blocked at several spots at the big-league level.
"I try not to look at it like that," he said. "Because a lot can happen. Injuries. Trades. Tomorrow, I might not even be here. Anything can happen. So I just try to stay focused on what I'm doing each and every day, try to go out there and get better."
More than anything, Rendon just wants to get on the field and play every single day. Not just for a week. Not just for a month. For a full season.
Perhaps then he'll be able to cast aside the label that's become attached to him so early in his career.
"It would mean the world to me," he said. "Because I know I'm not that kind of player. I want to go out there and play every day. That's what I enjoy doing. I don't like people saying: 'He's injury-prone, or whatever.' I just want to prove to people that I can play and that I want to play."