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Prospect Retro: Howie Kendrick

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Howie Kendrick was drafted by the Angels in the 10th round in 2002, out of St. John's River Community College in Florida. His pro debut was a success: .318/.368/.408 in the Arizona Rookie League, with 12 steals. He drew just seven walks, but fanned only 11 times in 157 at-bats. I didn't rate many short-season players back then, but a similar player now would get something like a "Grade C with higher potential" rating due to the very low strikeout rate.

Kendrick moved up to the Pioneer League in 2003, hitting .368/.434/.517 for Provo. He got attention from scouts for his excellent contact hitting skills, though doubts were raised abou this defense. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2004 book, writing that I wasn't sure where he'd fit glove-wise, but that the bat looked good.

Moved up to Low-A Cedar Rapids in 2004, Kendrick hit .367/.398/.578, which are terrific numbers anywhere but especially in the Midwest League, not an easy place to hit. HIs walk rate remained quite low, but he didn't strike out much and the production was impossible to ignore. He also improved defensively. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 2005 book, rating him as an excellent prospect.

Kendrick began 2005 with Rancho Cucamonga in the California League, hitting .384/.421/.638. Promoted to Double-A at midseason, he continued ripping the ball without missing a beat at a .342/.382/.579 clip. He stole 25 bases on the season, and while he walked just 20 times, he also struck out just 62 times in 469 at-bats while hitting 43 doubles and 19 homers. About the only negative was some problems turning the double play. I gave him a Grade A-, rating him as a future star and ranking him the number 10 hittting prospect in baseball.

He followed that up by hitting .369/.408/.631 in 69 games of Triple-A in 2006, then .285/.314/.416 in the majors. He hit .322/.347/.450 in 2007 with the Angels, then .308/.334/.428 this year. He's a .306/.333/.432 hitter overall in the majors.

Kendrick hardly ever walks, but his strikeout rate is low and he has an unusual ability to make hard contact even on pitches most hitters shouldn't swing at. The biggest difficulty he faces is staying healthy, which is becoming a persistent problem. If he can avoid major health issues, Kendrick will contend for batting titles in the coming years. But that's a big IF.