By: Austin Staton
HOUSTON, Texas – His season didn’t pan out as it was scripted but Monday evening brings a new chapter to light in the illustrious career of Rice standout Anthony Rendon.
As the defending national player of the year and a two-time All-American honoree, Rendon entered his junior campaign as the consensus top position prospect for the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
After successfully rehabilitating from an ankle injury that occurred this past summer while playing with the Collegiate National team, Rendon’s junior year has been marred from a shoulder strain that occurred early this season. The setback resulted in the slugger seeing a drop in his overall production while be relegated to the primary designated hitter for the Owls.
“I thought I would be invincible for my whole career but then I went down the summer after my freshman season,” said Rendon. “I came back strong and thought my injuries were over but I went down again this past summer. I finally thought to myself that the third time is a charm and it just seemed that if it wasn’t my ankle it was something else.
“It was frustrating just knowing that I couldn’t be out there in the field for most of this season.”
Coming off of a sophomore season that saw the Howser Trophy winner hit at a .394 clip with 89 hits, 26 home runs, 85 RBI and a .801 slugging percentage; expectations were astronomical for the Rice third baseman. However, the Houston native turned in a .327 average with 70 hits, six home runs and 37 RBI this season.
Despite a downward trend in numbers, Rendon still commanded respect from opposing teams this year as he led the nation with 80 bases on balls.
“I got frustrated the first couple of years when opposing pitchers were walking me but the coaches here just told me to take it as a sign of respect,” said Rendon. “When I get on base it is just another opportunity to help my team out and give us another chance to score.”
It is that team-first mentality that has made him such a special student-athlete explained Rice head coach Wayne Graham.
“He has brought a lot of attention to the program beyond what is normal but he has been a great player and a joy to watch,” Graham said.
“It’s too bad that we couldn’t watch him defensively this year because last year he was arguably the best defensive third baseman in the history of college baseball. He made plays that nobody else made and that is the reason why he is so highly valued.”
With multiple draft projections slotting Rendon as a first rounder likely landing with the Pirates or Mariners, there appears to be little concerns about the injury setbacks that he has endured.
“(Scouts) still know that his glove is still there and once he gets his arm problems solved, the bat will be there too,” added Graham. “I think he will be a very high draft pick and I’ll be surprised if he is not one of the top three picks.”
For Rendon, the journey to the top of the draft boards began following the conclusion of his career at Lamar High School. Falling to the Atlanta Braves in the 27th round of the 2008 draft, the first team 5A all-Texas shortstop made it his personal vendetta to improve his draft stock while at Rice and to ensure that his name was called near the top of the first round when he became draft-eligible.
“Coming out of high school I really wanted to start my professional career but obviously that didn’t happen,” said Rendon.
“Coming to Rice I wanted to improve my draft stock and mature and get better as a player both physically and mentally because my ultimate goal is to play at the highest level and play professional baseball.”
Under the direction of a coach that has turned out MLB standouts such as Lance Berkman, Andy Pettite, and Roger Clemens; Rendon found a home in the Rice system under the tutelage of Graham.
“I was a little bit skeptical of him because people had told me that he was a mean old man or that Rice was a hard school to come into but Coach Graham has been awesome to play for,” said Rendon. “It was awesome being able to play my collegiate career in my hometown. My family and friends were able to see me play and I just love the people over here. It has been a good experience.”
In what was likely his final game as a collegiate student-athlete, Rendon was 0-for-3 at the plate against California as the Golden Bears eliminated top seed and No. 8 overall national seed in the NCAA Houston Regional. In his final at-bat in the top of the ninth, Rendon flied out to right and was the recipient of a standing ovation as he headed towards the dugout.
“(The emotions) hit me. It was the end of the game, my last at-bat when I got out and next thing you know, the whole crowd starts cheering and I knew what they were cheering for,” Rendon explained. “I went into the dugout, I put my helmet down and just sat there right next to him (Coach Graham) and I was just thinking about the whole thing how it was unfolding.”
As it unfolds, Rendon will now await Monday evening draft results as he eagerly yearns for that phone call on the first day of the draft that eluded him just three years ago. With a new chapter in his career yet to be written, there is little doubt that he is ready for the challenge.
“The goal was to go higher in the draft. As long as I am drafted before the 27th round it will be an accomplishment because that is what I came to Rice to do.”
Austin Staton is currently a freelance writer that can be contacted by clicking here.