Renda Leaves Cal Legacy

When the University of California announced it was cutting its baseball program in the fall of 2010, then-sophomore second baseman Tony Renda had plenty of options. The NCAA granted all the players a waiver to transfer without having to sit out a year, and coming off a freshman campaign in which he played all 54 games—leading the team in batting average, hits, runs, and doubles—Renda had plenty of suitors for his services.

Renda said opposing coaches started calling him almost immediately after the NCAA made that announcement, and considering the Bay Area native had just seen his program swept out from under him, no one could have faulted Renda if he chose to transfer. Which is why what he told Cal coach Dave Esquer in the immediate aftermath of the decision all the more surprising.

"He came in and said to me, until someone takes this program away from me, I am going to be here," Esquer said. "When your best player shows that kind of commitment, that meant everything to us. He could have gone anywhere he wanted to, but he was saying he wasn't just going to turn his back and take the next best opportunity."

It's that type of character, along with his well-documented desire to succeed and hitting acumen that have scouts willing to overlook his diminutive 5-foot-8, 175-pound frame and consider him one of the draft's best second-base prospects. Of course, those who have been watching Renda play since he was much younger knew that his physical limitations weren't going to hold him back.

Renda first came to train with John Quintell, the respected hitting coach at Skyline JC in San Bruno, Calif., and a former Yankees' farmhand, when he was just 12 years old. It didn't take long for the youngster to make a lasting impression.

"He is just so motivated and so determined to be the very best. I love that," Quintell said. "His hands are lightning-fast, there is no doubt about it, and he was born with it. I have worked with major leaguers and D-I players and to me, his bat is a no-brainer. I have always known he could hit." 

Esquer realized Renda's talent at the plate quickly as well. After listening to longtime Junipero Serra High coach Pete Jensen tell him that Renda was the best hitter he had coached since ex-big leaguer Greg Jeffries, the Cal coaching staff started showing a lot of interest in the sophomore from San Mateo.

Once Renda committed and started working out with the team, Esquer knew his bat would play immediately. Noticing that he was "beyond his years as a hitter," Esquer inserted him into the middle of the lineup in the first game of his freshman season and Renda hasn't come out since.

Last season, Cal was the feel-good story in college baseball as the Bears shook off the looming cuts to make it to the College World Series, and Renda was a big reason why. He hit .332/.366/.434 and led the team in RBIs (44) and total bases (115) on his way to winning Pac-10 player of the year honors.

This season, Renda hasn't seen as many pitches to hit. Yet heading into the last series of the season against Stanford, Renda was hitting .365/.454/.517 while leading the team in every offensive category except home runs and RBIs. Despite the numbers, Renda knows he is going to get questions about his size, he just doesn't think it matters.

"Just because I am not 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds doesn't mean I can't play like I am," Renda said. "Who knows, maybe if I was 6-foot-4, I wouldn't have the same drive I have now. I believe that if you go out every day and play hard and let your talents takeover, all the rest of those things will fall into place."

California is going to miss the postseason, which means Renda will turn his focus to the 2012 draft. The first step will be continuing to improve defensively, something that Renda readily admits he needs to improve. He has only been playing second base since the 2011 season and he is still working to improve his footwork and quickness around the bag.

His ability to improve defensively may ultimately determine whether he can become a complete prospect, but scouts understand he can hit and just question his defensive potential. But one thing they don't question is whether he will work hard enough to make those improvements, because anyone who has seen Renda play knows he won't ever rest on his laurels.

"Tony is fun to watch," an American League area scout said. "He's a kid that you love to root for. All of us scouts fall in love with a kid like that because he puts it all out there and plays the game the right way. You know he's not supposed to do the things he's doing. Defensively, he's going to have to work at it. The range is fringe-average. The arm is fringe-average. He's going to have to work to stick at the big league level. But he'll do it."