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Under-the-radar Kendrick one of Halos' best

Under-the-radar Kendrick one of Halos' best

Under-the-radar Kendrick one of Halos' best

CHICAGO -- It was 3:30 p.m. PT on Saturday. The All-Stars were being announced and Howie Kendrick was watching intently from one of the side TVs stationed directly in front of his locker at Angel Stadium. When the American League reserves were unveiled, Robinson Cano's two backups at second base were Dustin Pedroia and Jason Kipnis. When the AL Final Vote candidates were named, five relievers made up the ballot.

Kendrick was stoic. No reaction, no emotion and, for a guy who perpetually goes unnoticed, very little surprise.

"Maybe next year," Kendrick said, cracking a smile mere seconds after finding out his resurgent first 14 weeks didn't warrant All-Star distinction.

"I had a chance to [be on the All-Star team] in 2011 and I had the honor to be selected by my peers," the Angels' 29-year-old second baseman added. "It's fun, it's a blast. I'm going to continue to keep playing. It's not going to change the way I play the game. You just have to keep progressing, getting better. We play every year, so hopefully I'll have an opportunity to make another one before I'm done playing."

Kendrick heads into the final five games of the first half with a .312/.354/.472 slash line, adding 11 homers -- three more than he had in 147 games last year -- with 40 RBIs and a 2.1 Wins Above Replacement that ranks second on the Angels. You can certainly make the case that Pedroia (an OPS 15 points higher than that of Kendrick) and Kipnis (78 points higher) have had slightly better first halves.

But this part isn't really up for debate: Besides the incomparable Mike Trout, Kendrick has been the Angels' best and most consistent player this season.

"We're still fighting to get where we want to be, but I think things could be a lot worse had he not done what he's done," said Mark Trumbo with the Angels currently two games below .500 for the first time since April 7 thanks to 10 wins in their last 12 games.

"He really hasn't had any down stretches. He's been extremely consistent, which really helps."

Bobby Grich, who owns the unofficial distinction as the best second baseman in Angels history, has seen Kendrick through basically every stage of his development while serving as a guest instructor at Spring Training for more than a decade.

He first met Kendrick in the spring of 2003, less than a year after the Angels plucked him out of community college in Palatka, Fla., with their 10th-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft.

"He stood out," Grich said, "because very few right-handed hitters have the right-center-field approach and can drive the ball the other way, and still be quick enough to get the hands out on a pitch on the inside strike zone. That's a technique, that's a style, that's a skill that very few young players have. And Howie had that from the get-go. That was his approach from Day 1."

That's especially the case this year, with Kendrick batting .402 on balls hit either up the middle or to right field, according to data compiled by BaseballReference.com. Ninety-two of his 105 hits -- most ever by an Angels second baseman by the All-Star break -- have gone in that direction. And all but one of his homers have been hit between left-center and right-center.

That's the approach that prompted many to pin Kendrick as a future batting champion in his early days. He's fallen short of that as an everyday player the previous three years -- though a .284/.325/.423 slash line is still solid -- but he's put together the best first half of his career.

If you've hardly noticed, you're far from alone.

On a star-studded Angels team, Kendrick is basically an afterthought. His face doesn't grace any of the six giant posters that greet fans at the Home Plate Gate of Angel Stadium -- those belong to Trout, Trumbo, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson -- and he's downright uncomfortable when the subject of himself comes up.

Kendrick is about as under-the-radar as they come.

"I don't think by the baseball community he is, but maybe by the fans and media he is," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I've talked to managers and coaches and scouts. They see Howie's talent."

Asked about perhaps not getting the recognition he deserves, Kendrick scoffs.

"I don't seek that stuff out, man," he said. "I go out to play; play to win."

Kendrick is a man with his priorities in order. He's married, has two young boys, is settled financially -- signing a four-year, $33.5 million extension with the organization he came up with in January of 2012 -- and has already overcome plenty, from growing up without a father to being ignored as an amateur to a potential pitfall early in his career.

Told this has been his best season, Kendrick disagrees.

It was 2009, he says, when he rose from the ashes. That was the year Kendrick was supposed to establish himself as a Major Leaguer. But by June 11, he was batting .231. And so Scioscia made some changes, sending Kendrick down and bringing up Sean Rodriguez.

"It was definitely a tough decision, because we felt like maybe he was going to emerge and have that breakout year of establishing himself as a premium Major League second baseman," Scioscia said.

"He came back with a vengeance."

Kendrick went to Triple-A, hit .346 for a three-week stretch, was called back up, posted a .351/.387/.532 slash line the rest of the way, played an integral part in a 97-win season and never really looked back.

Now he's reached a new level.

"He's playing a real solid second base, both offensively and defensively," said Grich, whose records for most games and hits by an Angels second baseman may one day fall to Kendrick. "He's been very, very consistent at the plate, and he's just really matured into an All-Star-caliber second baseman."

Maybe next year.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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