[Note: I'm just under Renda's height, so I have in-group privilege to make all the short jokes in this post.] Tony Renda seems mildly promising, from what I'm reading: a second-round pick who's a solid contact hitter with a great eye; defense that's not only solid, but improving, at a position of need; and someone who could earn promotion in short order, as a 24 year-old playing pretty well at AA. Conceivably he'll grow into a AAA job when Refsnyder is promoted, and then who knows, he could be a utilityman after Ryan and Drew leave, or even a potential full-time 2B if Refsnyder stagnates. But Renda is 5'8", so you fear his utter lack of power (4 HR in 1640 PA in A-AA) is a real sign, not something he'll grow out of with better contact. Yesterday I happened to be reading opinions about whether women will ever play in MLB, and I take this side: (1) yes; (2) the biggest barrier is how softball diverts girls away, but some girls do play little league through high school baseball; (3) fewer women are 6' or musclebound, but some are, and you see plenty below 6' in positions where agility and talent can thrive without raw strength and size – 2B, SS, LF, CF, and to an extent P. Of those positions, 2B is the one that most privileges agility and reflexes over pure physicality, so I easily could see women playing there – and, for the same reason, I could see a 5'8" guy like Renda.
But how often do guys that height make it? "Rarely," I'd thought, but I was totally wrong. To my surprise, a number of recent players have been 5'8" or less – 68 since 1995, but that slightly exaggerates: some are like Ramón "Who?" Caraballo, a 5'7" 2B with 110 career PA and a 57 OPS+. To exclude short-timers like Caraballo, and make the question, "how often do short guys play enough to be regulars, if just for a little bit," I narrowed the search to players 5'8" or under with at least one season of 550+ PA since 1995.
Here's a list of short guys who 'made it." No further comment after the list, but here's my take-home point: promising for Renda, they are disproportionately 2B or utilitymen, and (1) the "marginal utilitymen" group seems like a plausible hope for a guy like Renda, (2) the "quality regulars" group is probably the best-case scenario for him, and (3) don't hold your breath for the "superstars" group," who are not only rare, but disproportionately are either (a) short guys I remember to be impressively musclebound (Raines, Puckett, Durham), or (b) super-defense top athletes (Furcal, Rollins) – neither of which category seems a plausible match for Renda. Oddly, a number of the top folks who made a career elsewhere still played a few games at 2B, and not just the SS (Rollins, Furcal), but even the OFs (Puckett & Raines) - which is mainly silly trivia, but it hints that managers see 2B as a good match for a talented little guy; I mean, it's probably not a coincidence that the Puckett/Raines random-games-elsewhere weren't at 1B.
1. The marginal utilitymen • Aaron Miles: Over 3/4 of his games at 2B, but eventually a utilityman; with a 75 OPS+ and 1.0 career WAR over 3064 PA, he's almost the definition of "replacement-level infielder" • Desi Relaford: Really similar to Miles as a long-lasting replacement-level utilityman, except a little more versatile and a little worse: played every position except 1B & C, logging just -0.5 career WAR in 3347 PA. • Quinton McCracken: Playing mostly CF and a little in the corners, McCracken replacement-played his way to a grand total of 0.4 WAR in 2779 PA.
2. The quality regulars • Chone Figgins: A genuinely valuable utilityman: 3B (about 50% of his games), 2B (about 25%), and CF (about 20%); only 4 seasons with 100 games at any one position, two of those at 3B, on at 2B, and one OF. Racked up 22 WAR in 5360 career PA, including one outlier 7.7-WAR season. If a prospect turns out to be him, you're pretty happy. • David Eckstein: Very similar career stats to Figgins (20.8 WAR in 5705 PA), except Eckstein played about 75% SS, 25% 2B - and he fully handled SS, the more demanding middle-infield position: as a full-time SS his first 6 seasons, he logged +5 dWAR. • Joey Cora: A 2B (with a few games elsewhere, but he was a true 2B, not a utilityman) with only 7.9 WAR in 4297 PA, but in his good seasons he was a 1-2ish WAR regular. • Jose Altuve: Could well go into the superstar category before long, because he reached 10 WAR before turning 25, including a breakout age-24 season (6.1 WAR), yielding this amazing BBREF list of his top 5 comps through age 24: Billy Herman, Rod Carew, Fred Dunlap, Paul Molitor, Pete Rose – 3 Hall of Famers, Rose, and an 1880s star 2B (Dunlap) I know nothing about except that he probably would be really mad nonwhite guys like Altuve and Carew got permitted to play his position. • Marcus Giles: Career 2B with 16.7 WAR in just 3340 PA. Sort of the cautionary take about getting too excited about Altuve: at 25, started a 3-year peak of 7.8, 3.3 and 3.9 WAR, then completely collapsed at age 28, and was out of baseball by 29. • Josh Harrison: The next Zobrist, if he can repeat his stellar 2014? But more likely a quality utilityman (of his 5 years, 2014 was the only one with a 3-digit OPS+) who may or may not stick at 3B: he's running a 30-error/yr pace at 3B this year, and he's hitting more like a utilityman (88 OPS+). And he hasn't had one position for the majority of his career games; he's split his time between 3B, 2B, RF, SS, and LF (in that order), with 7.4 WAR in 1352 PA through just age 27.
3. The superstars • Jimmy Rollins: We all know he's a SS, but he played 1 game at 2B too! Closing in on 10,000 PA, with over 46 WAR so far. • Tim Raines: My #1 gripe about the Hall of Fame is this guy getting snubbed. 69.1 WAR in over 10,000 PA. A left fielder, but also played 53 games at 2B! • Ray Durham: No Hall of Fame candidate, but a legitimate star in his prime: his 33.6 WAR 8423 PA included 7 seasons of 3.1-4.4 WAR. Unusual compared to others his size, he was a much worse fielder (-5.7 dWAR) than hitter (43.0 oWAR) and actually had some pop (192 HR) • Rafael Furcal: I'd somehow remembered mainly the replacement-level mid-30s Furcal, but he was a legitimate star before that: 39.0 WAR in 7237 PA, including 5 seasons of 4.0-6.4 WAR. A shortstop with 44 games at 2B – including, oddly, 31 in his first season at age 22, and 8 in his last at age 37. • Kirby Puckett: A weak Hall of Fame selection, but a heck of a CF: 50.9 WAR in 7831 PA. Inexplicably also played 4 games at 2B, 4 at 3B, and 3 at SS; can any Minnesotans or trivia buffs tell me what that was about?