Angels see bright future for Kendrick
Second baseman with big bat gearing up for first full season
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Howie Kendrick has the disposition of ... well, let's just say the Angels' second baseman is playing for the right team.When he isn't lashing line drives to all fields, running the bases with passion and ranging both ways to take away hits with the glove, Kendrick is smiling. He smiles first thing in the morning when he arrives at the club's Spring Training facility, and he's no doubt smiling before slipping off into a deep sleep, another hard day's work done. Kendrick's world is a wonderful place to be. He's an everyday Major Leaguer with a dazzling future at 23, his bride of two months, the former Jody Jensen, by his side, matching his bright smile with her own. They were wed on Jan. 6 in Maui. This is pretty much everything a kid from hardscrabble beginnings in Callahan, Fla., near Jacksonville, could have wanted. And the next negative word you hear about Kendrick from anyone associated with the Angels will be the first. "Adam Kennedy was one of the hardest workers in camp I've ever seen," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "and Howie's right up there with Adam. He really gets after it." Kennedy was the Angels' second baseman for seven seasons. His superlative play in the 2002 postseason figured prominently in the organization's first World Series championship. Kennedy is with the champion Cardinals now, set free by the Angels largely because Kendrick is eight years younger and has star quality. In this business, the show goes on even as the names on the marquee change. Kennedy, a true pro, never let the possibility of being replaced by the younger athlete interfere with his relationship with a teammate craving knowledge. "Adam was great to me," said Kendrick, who played alongside Kennedy last year with 44 of his 72 rookie appearances at first base. "He taught me a lot." Taught well by his grandmother, Ruth Woods, with both parents in the military, Howard Joseph Kendrick III is all ears when he's in the company of proven performers. "He's an easy guy to get along with," Kendrick said of shortstop Orlando Cabrera, whose head, one locker over, was buried in a history tome. "He's the leader in the infield. He's very open to his insights on things.
"I feel comfortable working with him around the bag. The majority of the time, it's a good feed [on double plays]. He's a Gold Glove guy; he's serious about the game, but he keeps it fun. He knows a lot more about hitters than I do. He's smart. It just makes good sense to feed off a guy like him."When Cabrera was in Boston, helping Red Sox Nation celebrate the 2004 miracle championship, Kendrick was banging his way up the ladder, hitting a league-high .367 at Class A Cedar Rapids. Averages of .384 at high A Rancho Cucamonga and .342 at Double-A Arkansas in '05 earned Kendrick the promotion to the big time last season. A dismal 3-for-26 start in Anaheim sent him back to Triple-A Salt Lake in mid-May, but he didn't pout -- he hit .369. Kendrick returned on July 14, his stroke and confidence back in order. Hitting .303 in the second half, he finished at .285. His 16-game hitting streak ending Aug. 6 was the best by an American League rookie. "He's line-to-line, gap-to-gap," Scioscia said. "He has terrific bat speed with great hand-eye coordination -- traits for an All-Star-caliber hitter to have. This guy's going to be a terrific offensive player." Kendrick figures to open the season hitting sixth or seventh but eventually should settle into a higher spot in the order. "He has the potential to hit second through fifth," Scioscia said. "I can see him driving the ball well enough to hit in the middle of the lineup, and he can run well enough to score 100-plus runs." Known as "Truck," courtesy of former pitching coach Bud Black and an Eddie Kendricks song called "Keep On Truckin'," Howie hits like one but is more of a sports car on the bases and in the field. He's hitting .439 in Cactus League play with a team-high 31 total bases after going 3-for-3 on Sunday against Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano -- bullets, to left, right and left center. Solidly constructed at 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, he figures to get stronger and lift his power numbers (four homers, 30 RBIs in 267 at-bats last year). "I'm a guy who hits for average," he said. "I'm going to hit line drives, do whatever I can to get guys over and get runs in. I don't ever think about trying to hit a home run. It just happens. "I try to put a good swing on the ball with the same swing I've had since I was a kid, starting out in T-ball when I was about 5 years old. That's one thing I've always been able to do -- hit. "Nobody's ever tried to change my swing." Rough and raw defensively early in his career, he has smoothed over the hard edges to become solid in the field. "Defense is something I try to get better at every year," he said. The whole Kendrick package is enough to bring smiles to Angels fans everywhere.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.