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Friday, February 3, 2012
Position previews: Second base

By Mark Saxon

The Angels have gotten more attention for snatching up other teams' free agents lately, but two of their shrewdest signings in the past six months went to homegrown talent.

Less than five months after reaching what appeared to be a club-friendly deal to keep Jered Weaver in town for the entirety of his prime, the Angels (under a new GM) reached a similar agreement with Howie Kendrick. It's not just about dollars and sense, but about timing.

Howie Kendrick
Second base is locked up with Howie Kendrick staying around.
Kendrick, 28, is coming off a career year and could be in position to take his game up another level while, presumably, batting in front of Albert Pujols. If his age and batting position converge to make Kendrick an offensive force, the Angels' four-year, $33.5 million extension with him will seem like bargain shopping.

He's starting from a pretty good place. Only four second basemen with at least 425 plate appearances last year had a higher OPS than Kendrick's .806. Two of them, Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia, are superstars and the other two, Ian Kinsler and Ben Zobrist, get more publicity than Kendrick does. Kendrick had the highest fielding percentage (.992) among AL second basemen.

When Kendrick broke into the major leagues, he was viewed as a potential future batting champion. Throughout the minor leagues, people wondered whether his fielder would ever be better than adequate. His career is taking a different trajectory. A .292 career hitter, Kendrick's power blossomed last season, with his home run total jumping from a habitual 10 to 18. Pitches that he used to hit into alleys, he lifted over fences. Kendrick used to be a doubles machine, but that total declined from 41 to 30 last season.

His ability to make routine plays is as reliable as any Angel and he occasionally makes spectacular diving stops. He has developed good timing with Gold Glove shortstop Erick Aybar after nearly a decade of working together, in the minor and major leagues. He'll never be mistaken for Roberto Alomar, but he is better with his glove than people expected.

With pitchers wary of facing Pujols with runners on base, they figure to pound fastballs against Kendrick. That should work in his favor as he has traditionally struggled to recognize and lay off sliders. Bill James projects Kendrick to regress slightly to a .287/.329/.441 line, but the Pujols effect could negate that.

Unless this season takes an unexpected turn, the Angels have little to worry about at second base.