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Monday, January 23, 2012
The most frustrating Angel: Howie Kendrick

By Mark Saxon

Following a recent theme of aping David Schoenfield's blog ideas, I'm nominating Howie Kendrick as the most-frustrating Angel. No Angels made the list, which was topped by the Detroit Tigers' strikeout-prone center fielder Austin Jackson.

Let's be clear that calling Kendrick "frustrating" isn't the same thing as calling him "bad," or even "mediocre." It's just that he has never quite lived up to the lofty expectations that his minor-league numbers suggested.

And, no, it's not Vernon Wells. That topic has been beaten to death and Wells' decline began in Toronto. If anything, fans should be frustrated with ex-GM Tony Reagins for a trade that was almost universally panned at the time. Let's confine the discussion to guys currently on the roster, so no Brandon Wood or Dallas McPherson references.

Why Kendrick? At 28, he is, in fact, one of the most-valuable second basemen in the American League, perhaps behind only Dustin Pedroia, Robinson Cano and Ian Kinsler in his overall impact. He was an All-Star last July. He is a very good defender at second base and adequate at first base and left field. The Angels' recent four-year, $33.5 million deal with him will probably prove to be a bargain.

But chew on these for a minute: In rookie ball, Kendrick batted .368. At low-A ball, he hit .367. At Double-A, he hit .342. At Triple-A, he batted .369.

It seemed like the Kendrick Express wouldn't slow down when he reached Anaheim. After he finally stuck with the Angels, he batted .322 in 2007, when he was 23. At the time, everybody in the Angels organization seemed certain Kendrick would one day, maybe soon, win a batting title. Instead, things drifted sideways for a while. Kendrick struggled so badly in 2009, he had to endure a 20-game demotion to Triple-A Salt Lake. At-bat after at-bat ended with a lazy fly ball to right field.

And was last season the "breakout year" everyone seems ready to proclaim it? He hit a career-high 18 home runs, but he also struck out a career-high 119 times. His .338 on-base percentage, his best since 2007, was barely above the league average.

Again, Kendrick is a good player, a borderline elite player, but his career has also been a bit of a tease.

Honorable mention: Kevin Jepsen, Hank Conger.