Kendrick primed for above-average year

Kendrick has above-average signs

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The scouting report was always the same.

Second baseman Howard Kendrick -- future American League batting champ.

Fair or unfair, that's the hype that came with batting a combined .361 through his first five Minor League seasons.

So far through his first four seasons with the Angels, however, Kendrick has seen some up and downs and hasn't quite reached that batting-champion potential.

It was evident last season when he was hitting just .236 through his first 58 games and was sent down to the Minors on June 11 to get out of his funk. But Kendrick returned to the Majors in a big way by batting .351 after being called up on July 4 to lead all of baseball, signaling that talks of his demise were premature.

And now coming off that monstrous second half, this could be the season where it puts it all together and proves his scouting report correct. But as for Kendrick, winning a batting title is the furthest thing from his mind. "If I win one, that would be awesome, but I don't focus on that," Kendrick said. "I focus on winning and playing the game. I think accolades and all that come with winning. So if I can help my team win and do things day in and day out, maybe one day I might be able to do that, but it's not my focus."

So even though Kendrick has yet to deliver a batting title for the Angels, he's been far from a disappointment as evidenced by his career .303 batting average.

His approach at the plate has always been sound -- he's a natural hitter that seems to always hit the ball hard -- but he openly admits it's the mental part of the game that has frustrated him at times throughout his career.

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The 26-year-old, though, feels like he's matured, especially after his stint in the Minor Leagues last season, when he batted .346 in 20 games with Triple-A Salt Lake. He's learned to stop putting so much pressure on himself and it's paid dividends.

"I realize that the only thing you can do is hit the ball and make contact and the rest will take care of itself," Kendrick said. "You can't really worry about the result."

Kendrick's improved mentality carried over into the playoffs against the Red Sox and Yankees when he batted .263 with an .826 OPS in 19 at-bats, which was a major improvement from his first two playoff experiences, when he batted just .148 in 27 at-bats.

"I think I just matured more as a player," Kendrick said. "The first two postseasons I put too much pressure on myself, but last year I kind of relaxed. There was no pressure on me. We were there as a team. I had to look at it as a game or an extension of the season, so it helped me."

Kendrick's next goal this season is to improve at second base, where he's regarded as a solid defender but openly admits he can work to get better.

"I'm trying to work defensively to try to fine-tune that so that I can have as much confidence in my defense as I do offensively," Kendrick said. "It doesn't come as naturally to me as it does offensively.

"I've always been able to hit. It's what carried me. But no one ever took the time to help me defensively. I was always a good athlete and could make plays, but in terms of fundamentals, that came in the Minors because that was the first time someone was hands-on with it with me."

It's just another piece of the puzzle for Kendrick, who in Angels manager Mike Scioscia's eyes can be even better this season than last year, when he batted .291 with 10 home runs and 61 RBIs.

"He's come a long way and is feeling comfortable with some of the things he's learned from last year," Scioscia said. "The potential is still there and he has high expectations for himself as we do."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.