Scouting Comparison: Anthony Rendon vs. Nolan Arenado

About eight years ago Major League baseball saw the influx of a host of high quality third baseman. The arrival started with the debut of players like Kevin Youkilis and David Wright in 2004 and continued with Ryan Zimmerman in 2005. The string of hot corner studs slowed after this stretch and was capped by the arrival of Evan Longoria in 2008.

Baseball is a cyclical game and the development of young third baseman has stagnated over the last several years. That trend may be shifting as the minor leagues play host to several players that have impact potential. The Nationals’ Anthony Rendon and the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado are two of the top hot corner prospects in the game, and they are joined by players like Miguel Sano, Nick Castellanos and Mike Olt, among others. These players appear poised to ascend upon the Major Leagues and become the next wave of great third baseman.

Focusing on Rendon and Arenado offers an opportunity to compare two extremely talented players. Heading into the 2011 college season Rendon was considered by scouts to be the top position player in the draft class and was arguably the top player available overall. After injuring his ankle the prior year, Rendon battled shoulder issues last spring, an injury that ultimately kept him from playing the field for much of the season. Concerns over his injury history and the overwhelming emergence of pitchers like Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, combined with his Scott Boras affiliation sent him sliding in the draft. The Nationals popped him with the sixth overall pick and signed him to a Major League deal worth north of $7 million.

While Rendon was finishing up his freshman season at Rice in 2009, Arenado was shooting up draft boards as a high school senior. He was picked in the second round by the Rockies and signed for $625,000. He has moved steadily through the Rockies system since signing, peaking with an outstanding season in High-A last year where he hit .298/.349/.487 with 55 extra-base hits, besting his total from the year before in Low-A by one.

Both players are well-built though not considered monsters. Rendon (6-0, 190) has a strong, thick lower half that works with the rest of his game. Scouts noted his improved upper body strength throughout college and as he has approach physical maturity, his game has continued to improve. Arenado is slightly bigger, standing 6-foot-1 and weighing in around 210 pounds, a marked change from where he was in 2010 when he was much softer and pushing 230 pounds. At first glance, he now looks the part of an athlete with a well-proportioned body and noticeable strength throughout his frame.

When considered in passing, the idea that Rendon and Arenado are even remotely comparable prospects may seem farfetched to the casual fan. It is my contention however, that not only are the two players closer in status than many believe, but that both should be considered elite third base prospects with the potential to impact the big leagues for years to come.

Hitting Ability
Hitting ability is arguably the best tool in both players’ skill sets. Rendon employs exceptional pitch recognition skills and a keen knowledge of the strike zone to zero in on pitches he can drive. He has phenomenally quick hands that get the bat to the zone quickly and he also has the coordination to barrel the ball in all parts of the strike zone. Some scouts noted he will get a little pull happy at times, but at his best he uses the whole field well and can wear out the outfield gaps. It is not difficult to project Rendon to hit .300 at the big league level.

Arenado has a freakish feel for contact. He adjusts so quickly to the path of the ball that he can make contact on virtually any pitch thrown to him. With experience in pro ball he has refined his plate discipline and showed a tighter strike zone in 2011, allowing him to square up more balls. Arenado’s hands and wrists have outstanding strength. He generates plus-plus bat speed with nearly every swing and the ball jumps off his bat. He has a knack for taking what a pitcher gives him, roping line drives to all fields rather than trying to do too much and making weaker contact to the pull side.

The scouts I spoke with throughout the 2011 season were mixed on which player projected as the better pure hitter. Many evaluators were staunch in their support of Rendon early in the year, but began to change their tune as Arenado made adjustments throughout the season and began to show the potential to be a 70-grade hitter.

I had the opportunity to see both players on several occasions in 2011, walking away impressed on every occasion. While Arenado made strides in his plate discipline last year, Rendon’s Major League-caliber pitch recognition and willingness to work counts and take walks leave me with a touch more confidence in his long term hitting projection. In an extremely tight comparison, I think Rendon edges out Arenado as the better pure hitter by the slimmest of margins.

Power
While consistent praise is showered on both players for their exceedingly natural hitting ability, there are open questions about how much power potential they actually own.

Rendon offers the bat speed and enough loft in his swing to elicit projections of at least 20-25 home runs annually. When his offense is in a groove, the power comes naturally and he doesn’t have to gear up for it as he did at times during his junior year of college. When he works from gap-to-gap, he has the pitch recognition skills to identify pitches he can turn on and hammer to left field. If that recognition remains intact at the big league level – and there is no reason to believe otherwise – then he should be able to add a strong power showing to his already outstanding hitting ability.

Scouts that question Rendon’s power ceiling see a guy that will likely be a doubles machine with average (15-18 home runs) power and maybe a few peak seasons better than that.

Even with the added physicality that Arenado brings to the table, his power projection remains a leap of faith for some. There is little room to question his bat speed or the strength in his swing, but his swing is far more conducive to screaming line drives than blasting home runs. With a flatter swing path through the zone and the absence of significant loft on the back side, Arenado doesn’t elevate the ball as well as some scouts would like. Believers in his power remain convinced that it will come as he continues to refine his approach and swing against more advanced competition. Even with his current swing mechanics, Arenado projects as a player capable of racking up 35 doubles and as much as 20 home runs a year.

I am a notorious sucker for the more physical player when it comes to long term power projection. That leaves me among the believers in Arenado’s projection. As he matures as a hitter and gains more experience, I think there will be added loft in his swing and the natural strength of his swing will result in plus power and maybe a tick more in his peak seasons. Ultimately, while I view the reasonable power potential of both in a similar light (20-plus home runs, 30-plus doubles), I think Arenado’s is likely to be more natural and has a slight chance to be a little louder in the end.

Speed
Neither player offers anything in the way of speed. Rendon’s speed has fallen from average to below-average due in part to his ankle injury in college. That declining trend could well continue as he maxes out physically. Arenado is also a below-average runner that will not be a threat on the bases.

Defense
Their work in the field is arguably the area of the game that separates these two players the most. Scouts consistently regard Rendon as a plus defender at third base. He has excellent reactions, a good first step and soft hands. He has a well-developed understanding of his positioning at third base, regularly moving himself on a pitch-by-pitch basis to give him an added edge.

The Nationals have toyed with Rendon at multiple infield positions this spring, including shortstop and second base in addition to his traditional third base. It is a stretch to believe he owns the range for shortstop and the same may be problematic at the keystone as well. His hands, footwork and instincts would all likely translate well, but it is far more likely that he remains at third base long term.

The report on Arenado’s defense has changed dramatically over the last year. In 2011 scouts reported improved reactions and footwork at third to go along with his now solid hands. While several scouts I spoke with last year tossed a future 55-grade on Arenado’s glove work, I was a little more cautious in my own assessment. I believe many of the gains seen last year were real but I still firmly believe he maxes out as a steady, average defender.

Rendon is the clear winner with the glove. He offers the ability to defend at a Gold Glove-worthy level and has a slim chance of succeeding at other positions higher on the defensive spectrum.

Arm Strength
Arenado’s arm stands out on the field. He has a natural arm motion and the ability to fire throws from multiple angles with plenty of zip. His arm strength has graded as a plus tool on every report I have ever received, with many grades exceeding that level. His throws are consistently accurate, enabling his arm strength to play up even more.

Rendon’s arm is no slouch, though it lacks the same “mustard” that Arenado provides. His arm is solidly above-average with good carry and accuracy from third base. He’s not quite as adept as Arenado at making throws from various angles, but he holds his own.

The Pick
As I alluded to at the beginning of this piece, I believe the gap between Rendon and Arenado is often considered larger than it actually is.

Both players offer the potential of premium offense, both in terms of average and in-game power. Rendon’s edge in hitting ability is slight and born as much out of his approach to hitting as his natural talent for it. The strides shown by Arenado in 2011 hint that he may develop an approach that could keep this difference from materializing, but that is not a leap I am willing to make at this time.

The projection of Arenado’s power gives him the slightest of edges in the other significant offensive tool. Similar to their hitting ability, the edge that I believe will exist long term may never fully materialize and the two players could end up slugging very comparably.

Where the biggest difference resides is in the field. There is little doubting Rendon’s ability with the glove and instincts for the position. He has always been a very strong defender and barring additional injuries that alter his defensive capabilities, he will remain the superior defender long term.

The polish of Rendon’s offensive approach and his defensive superiority outweigh the arm strength and slight power advantage held by Arenado. I have few reservations in projecting either player as an impact big leaguer, but I am slightly more comfortable projecting stardom for Rendon than Arenado. I believe firmly that both players will hit in the middle of a big league lineup and that they will head the next great class of All-Star third basemen, but with a gun to my head and the ability to select only one, I will opt for Anthony Rendon and be comfortable that a star is on the way.




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Mark is the Founder and Head Scout for BaseballProspectNation.com and the Managing Editor for TigsTown.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BPN_Mark.


37 Responses to “Scouting Comparison: Anthony Rendon vs. Nolan Arenado”

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  1. byron says:

    Great analysis, but I think you structured it rhetorically around a false premise. I’m not sure who considers Rendon substantially a better prospect than Arenado. Keith Law has them 17 and 26, and Fangraph’s own Marc Hulet has them 21 and 22. Baseball Prospectus actually puts Arenado at 20 and Rendon at 26. Baseball America was the largest gap I saw, at 19 and 42, but I bet they’d be the first to tell you that’s pretty close.

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    • stevo says:

      I have seen a few sources that rank Arenado in the 30′s and 40′s while Rendon is consistently top 20. I think that’s what the author is pointing out.

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    • Ben Hall says:

      I think that most prospect experts have Rendon lower due to his injuries from last year. I have read several reports that if he proves fully recovered, he is a top 10 prospect.

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    • Thanks, Byron.

      My initial premise is based off the general perception of the casual or average fan that likely has far more exposure to Rendon than Arenado. For very serious fans or folks that follow the minor leagues closely, the premise may have been a bit cloudy, I agree.

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  2. stevo says:

    Awesome write up. One more interesting note I’ll add is that Arenado had more XBH’s the past 2 seasons than SO’s. Many people close to the Rockies believe that he could be up this year and the same could probably have been said for Rendon if not for the injuries. Still, Rendon will probably be ready next year with a strong chance for a late season call up this year if he shows that he is the same player pre-injury.

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    • Psst says:

      Looking up guys who came to mind as having great bat control and low K numbers I came up with
      Polanco A+ 20yo(7months older than Arenado) .291/.323/.363 34xBH/34K,
      Vlad A 20yo(two months older, one level lower) .333/.383/.544 47xBH 45K
      Pedrioa A-A+ 20yo .357/.435/.535 16xBH 7k(185PA) (his 21yo in AA .293/.385/.452 44xBH 43K
      Nomar A+ 20yo .295/.356/.419 10xBH 8K

      there are a lot more than that obviously, but it does seem like the players who can maintain a sub 10% K-rate and 150+ ISO are not only allstars but have MVP upside.

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  3. Nate says:

    My Mariners were one of the teams that passed on him in the Draft. I like Hultzen and all, but I think we’ll regret that we didn’t get Rendon. Sooner rather than AND later.

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  4. Psst says:

    Arenado has been impressive defensively so far in ST showing good range, excellent reflexes, and his arm is not quite Tulo class but is impressive.

    This year will tell a lot for Arenado who’s 2011 home park had a 40 park factor for RH HR(the lowest of any park in pro baseball), and his road .228 ISO(14 HR) as opposed to his home .151 ISO(6HR) reflected that. If those numbers(As one of the ten youngest players in the Cal) neutralize in Tulsa Arenado may have seasons that touch 30HR.

    Rendon is all injury concerns aside deserving of all the respect shown to him. While he is a year older than Arenado, he realistically could challenge Chase Utley numbers if he can make the transition to 2B.
    While it is obviously premature and bordering on hyperbole to compare a guy who hasn’t faced professional pitching to a guy who posted 5 consecutive 7+WAR seasons Rendon has that kind of bat.

    I can certainly see why gun to your head you would pick the guy with All Star capabilities on both sides of the ball, it is a bit like the Stanton v. Heyward argument a few years ago neither side can really complain as both look to to be future stars.

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  5. BEN2074X says:

    Only way Rendon is an allstar 3rd basebman is if the Nat’s don’t move him off of 3rd base. While that might not happen it is much more likely to happen while Zimmerman holds onto 3rd base for at least the next 3-4 years before a move to 1st.

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    • rarumberger says:

      Let’s let Rendon play a few professional games before we project when Zimmerman moves across the diamond for him.

      Plus I question which provides more overall value: Rendon at 3B, a hypothetical average 2B at 2B, and Zim at 1B, or Zim at 3B, Rendon at 2B, and a hypothetical average 1B at 1B. Does the (presumably) better defense more than make up for the (presumably) worse offense?

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      • D0nc0smic says:

        It will be a long long time before Zimmerman is below average at 3b, Rendon is a second baseman from 2013-15 at the very least.

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  6. Bronnt says:

    If Rendon does actually have an edge in power over Arenado, it might not be immediately apparent as Arenado moves up the ladder, playing at Colorado Springs and then Denver. That’s part of why adjustments are such an important tool, and it seems difficult to project Arenado’s power potential as he moves up in terms of a raw number of extra base hits. Even if he tops out as a guy you might normally expect to hit around 20 home runs and 20 doubles, he might regularly post seasons of 25+ homers and 30+ doubles if he stays with the Rockies.

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    • d_i says:

      This Coors Field variable is the one that makes me hesitant to value Rendon over Arenado in my draft. Even if Rendon has a higher offensive true talent level, Coors is going to boost Arenado’s HRs and BABIPs a bit. As little as Arenado strikes out, I could see him challenging for batting titles. I really don’t hink you can go wrong with either, but I’m valuing Rendon slightly higher (with the potential 2b/3b eligibility bonus for a year at least).

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  7. In projecting future performance, do 2 years of low MiLB competition provide more robust past evidence than college ball, or does it not matter? Wood bats, professional arms, etc.

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  8. randy says:

    It’s also important to consider that Arenado has more pro experience and the implications it has on any projections. We should have a better idea once the season begins and we see more of Rendon. Opportunity matters, and the defensive ability of Rendon to possibly play another position makes him the better real life option.

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  9. Why do you call me Phantom of the Opera? says:

    Sano could be a 60 hitter with 75 power. Just sayin.

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  10. mike says:

    “it is far more likely that he (Rendon) remains at third base long term.”

    Only if the Nationals trade him. They’ve already got a 3B who is:

    1) one of the best in the game at the position

    2) 27 years old

    3) under contract for the next 8 years

    A move to 1B might be in Zimmerman’s future. But not the near future.

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    • D0nc0smic says:

      exactly, he is the best defensive 3b in the NL when healthy, 3b s not a positions people tend to move away from as they age. 5 years from now Ryan Zimmerman will be a better defensive 3b than Kevin Youkolis ever was.

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      • stevo says:

        Is there a reason you’re comparing him to Youk of all people? Youk was groomed to be a 1st baseman and only recently switched to 3rd. I know that Youk was originally at 3rd at Cincy but it’s still a silly comp.

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      • Ben Hall says:

        Youkilis was actually a 3B throughout his minor league career. He moved to first because the Sox had first Bill Mueller and then acquired Mike Lowell. Of his 400 games in the minors, 340 were at 3B.

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  11. Nick says:

    This line: “I have few reservations in projecting either player as an impact big leaguer” seems to contradict EVERYTHING written before and after it, especially one line in that same final paragraph:”I believe firmly that both players will hit in the middle of a big league lineup and that they will head the next great class of All-Star third basemen.”

    What gives?

    I mean, (as my mother used to say) “Shit or get off the pot,” Mark Anderson.

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    • I think you need to re-read that first sentence….

      “I have FEW reservations…”

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      • Psst says:

        What do you think of a Jeff Cirillo with more power/lesser defense as a comp for Arenado?

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      • I’m generally not a fan of comps, particularly when you have to qualify the comp by saying “more of” something or “less of” something to make the comp passable.

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      • baty says:

        I like this a lot, Mark… Comps, for the most part, are ridiculous when trying to grade prospects, although I understand many feel that they need to, in order to tangibly tie together what they think the prospect may or may not be.

        Very rarely do you hear of “transitioned to 3B” prospects making a move over to second base, even though he did get his start as a SS. He’s all over the board. First baseman/tight end Frank Thomas (CWS) and Anthony Rendon had eerily similar hitting success in college. Size-wise, Rendon is one of the littlest guys on the list… On par with Lindor (at some point but almost 3 years older)… a bit taller than Pedroia. His size, strength, bat control, and bat recognition combination is pretty unique (boy is that crazy late hitch he sets up with during every pitch kind of irritating). As a Freshman and Sophomore in college he put together a combination of contact, power, and discipline you might see in a future Hall of Famer’s stat page. How will he translate as a MLB hitter who finally starts to face pitchers that will force him to swing wood earlier in a delivery and more frequently per PA? Who knows… For me, Rendon is probably the most curious and unique case out there right now.

        In the end, your comp is any number of combination of maybe a dozen ballplayers.

        I can see measuring aspects of a prospect, such as comparing a tool or skill (breaking ball release and velocity, home to first speed, length of swing, etc…) to another current player, but to attempt to clue people in to what the more complete package may be like, is pretty crazy stuff.

        You want to continue compartmentalizing a prospect into pieces, because with every level advancement they make, there’s no telling what effect a “hidden” weakness might have on a previously “visible” strength… You never know when so called “visible” weaknesses, might actually be “hidden” strengths…

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  12. Nick says:

    Also, you can play in my fantasy leagues anytime, valuing a position-blocked National with a bum shoulder over a rising monster and AFL MVP heading to Coors with Casey Blake in his windshield.

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    • Psst says:

      I love Arenado and could easily see him having somewhere between Mike Lowell’s 01-07 Peak seven straight seasons of 3.5+WAR 350wOBA .177 ISO or maybe closer to Pedrioa’s 07-11 numbers of .309/.377/.469(.372 wOBA) with a bit less patience and a bit more power.

      However the threat of Rendon being somewhere between Cano’s .304/.349/.498 and Utley’s .290/.386/.503 depending on how well his patience translates, even if he is a slightly below average defender at second he would be more valuable.

      a 2B .285/.360/.485 with 20 hr is likely to be more valuable in fantasy and real life than a 3B with a .315/.355/.505 and 25HR although you you would love to have either player on your team.

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  13. John says:

    “While several scouts I spoke with last year tossed a future 55-grade on Arenado’s glove work, I was a little more cautious in my own assessment. I believe many of the gains seen last year were real but I still firmly believe he maxes out as a steady, average defender.”

    Like the difference between 50 and 55 defense is even noticable to the human eye.

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  14. Ryan D. says:

    Any guesses as to when Rendon arrives in Washington. The Nationals look setup for a run next year, but the NL East looks in play this year. They may need his bat for a run this year.

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    • I think he could be in line for a September look this year and could contend for a significant role in 2013.

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      • mike says:

        He’d better get some work in at a middle infield position in the minors this year then.

        ‘Cause he sure won’t be playing 3B for the Nationals in 2013. Or 2014, 2015, 2016…

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  15. Randy says:

    I know many people mainly read sites like this for fantasy purposes, but scouting isn’t about fantasy baseball. Obviously the fact that Rendon might be able to play a position besides 3B matters for his playing time in real life, but at the same time you shouldn’t move a prospect off of his best position without having seen him play pro ball yet, especially when it can take several years for a player to develop. They’ll move him if they think he has a legitimate shot at making the club this year or next year, but I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion.

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  16. philly jim says:

    interesting to read this now, in may 2014, with arenado in the middle of a hit streek and Rendon really establishing himself.
    not sure if anybody here would have seen Arenado winning a gold glove already.

    so now, which of these two do we like better going forward?

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