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03/01/2006 11:11 PM ET
Angels dazzled by Kendrick's potential
Infielder impressing with dedication to improving defense
Angels scouting director Eddie Bane deems 22-year-old Howie Kendrick to be "the best hitter in the Minor Leagues right now." (Harry How/Getty Images)

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Howie Kendrick can feel comfortable about his place in Angels camp, or at least as comfortable as a prospect looking for a job can get.

Kendrick can afford to feel that way about his place in the grand scheme of the organization because the Angels want him and expressed that desire by turning down overtures during the offseason from clubs like the Red Sox and Nationals, who coveted the second baseman's ability to hit.

Another plus for Kendrick this spring, his second in big-league camp, is he is less in awe of his surroundings while gaining the sense that he belongs.

"It's the whole atmosphere," Kendrick said. "I know my way around more. No one here is unapproachable."

On approach to the Majors, though, is Kendrick, who will open the season at Triple-A but could see action with the Angels at some point this year, especially if the club feels a need to inject some life into the lineup.

The Angels remain intrigued by Kendrick's offensive skills, and the 22-year-old has done nothing this spring to douse that enthusiasm.

"Howie is a guy that can hit right now in the big leagues and hit in a big way in the big leagues," said manager Mike Scioscia, adding that appearing as the designated hitter is not out of the realm of possibility this season.

The expectations are not applied lightly, either. Kendrick posted numbers worthy of being named the Angels' co-Minor League Player of the Year in 2005 along with another of the organization's middle infield phenoms, Brandon Wood.

At 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, Kendrick supports a frame that appears more suited to covering a receiver on a deep route than covering second base. Then he steps into the box and rakes a triple into the opposite-field corner.

The only issue that remains for Kendrick is an ability to match his glove to his bat, but observers say that he has the key ingredient to lick that problem, too.

"He has the one thing that a coach could ask for; he wants to learn," said Minor League roving infield instructor Rob Picciolo. "The battle is halfway won because he wants to play defense as well as he plays offensively. His interest is there and he wants it."

Picciolo was a Major League infielder for nine years and also was a coach with San Diego, where he worked with the infielders. In Kendrick, he said the No. 1 aspect the Angels are trying to emphasize this spring is simply to make the routine plays. He said his natural athleticism will take care of the great plays.

"His biggest asset is his ability to adjust. He is now able to coach himself," Picciolo said. "After a miscue he is beginning to think why it didn't work. Just like he is able to do with his hitting, he is making the (defensive) adjustments on his own. He will need to do that in games. The good ones do that and the great ones do that."

Kendrick has made strides at his position. A second baseman since being drafted in the 10th round in 2002, he committed a total of 14 errors last season in 109 games over two Minor League stops.

He and Wood formed a double-play combo at Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga before he teamed with shortstop Erick Aybar when he was promoted to Double-A Arkansas. Kendrick said his confidence in the field has been growing.

"I'm trying to improve my game overall," Kendrick said. "I'm spending a lot of time here working on my defense."

It's the bat, though, that is getting him noticed. He hit .384 with 23 doubles in 63 games for the Quakes and followed that with a .342 average and 20 doubles for the Travelers. He scored a cumulative total of 104 runs, then led the Arizona Fall League with 46 hits and was named to the 24-man Team USA squad for the Olympic qualifying tournament.

All of which makes it easier to understand the raves he is getting from those within the organization, bias notwithstanding.

"He is the best hitter in the Minor Leagues right now. He is a pure hitter," said Angels director of scouting Eddie Bane. "He needs to get better at defense, but he can hit at any level. He has average power that might project to the 15-20 home run range at some point. He reminds me of Bill Madlock."

Madlock won four batting titles during a 15-year Major League career. Kendrick isn't about to let thoughts like those creep into his head, but he has a mentality that dovetails nicely with the Angels.

"I'm just trying to stay aggressive as a hitter," Kendrick said. "I've always been like that. I've become smarter since I've become a pro and I've been able to pick up on pitchers' tendencies as I've gotten older. But I just try to square the ball up and hit the ball hard."

Sounds like he'll do just fine.

Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.