MANAGER MIKESCIOSCIA seventh season with Angels
SOME PLAYERS seek fame. Howie Kendrick runs into the famous by accident. As theAngels' second baseman stood in the on-deck circle between innings of anexhibition game this spring, a distinguished-looking gentleman in his 60s madehis way across the field from the box of team owner Arte Moreno. The man made adetour to shake hands with Kendrick. "He was walking with one of thevisiting clubhouse guys," recalls Kendrick, "and he said, 'Hello,' andI said, 'Hey' back."
It wasn't untilafter the game that Kendrick learned that the man was former New York Citymayor and 2008 presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani. "I just shook his handand didn't think twice about it," Kendrick says. "I didn't know I wassupposed to know him. My bad."
It won't be longuntil the day when even the most casual baseball fan will know Kendrick, thecrown jewel of one of the game's most envied player development systems. The23-year-old native of the northern Florida town of Callahan spent the betterpart of five years hammering minor league pitching for a .361 batting averageand .570 slugging percentage before getting called up to the big league clubthree weeks into the 2006 season. Though he struggled at the outset (3 for 26),which earned him a demotion to Triple A, he returned to the majors for good inJuly, put together a 16-game hitting streak and batted .303 for the rest of theseason. "I know I belong here," he says.
No one in theAngels' organization, and few in baseball, doubt that Kendrick--who spent mostof last season playing out of position at first base--is destined for stardom.His accomplishments in the minors plus his performance in the Show at the endof last season suggest an imminent breakout. His potential is a small butsignificant reason the Angels are SI's choice to win the World Series thisfall.
The Angels knowwhat type of team they have--as deep as anyone in the power arms so essentialin October (Jered Weaver, who held foes to a .209 average will be the fifthstarter when Bartolo Colon returns from an elbow injury in late April) butbereft of sure things on offense after rightfielder Vladimir Guerrero.Leftfielder Juan Rivera (.525 slugging) was the only other regular whoconsistently provided above-average production in 2006, but he broke his leftleg while playing winter ball and isn't expected to return until June.
In the meantimeKendrick and the rest of the kiddie corps will be counted on to deliver.Catcher Mike Napoli, 25, who in 268 at bats as a rookie last year walked 51times and had a better home run rate than AL MVP Justin Morneau, brings gooddefense to the lineup as well. "The bottom line for a catcher is, How manyruns did you give up and did you win or lose? Mike was off the charts onboth," says manager Mike Scioscia. (Indeed, the Angels were 46--30 in gamesthat Napoli started.)
Before long theclub may also turn to prized prospect Brandon Wood, 22, a shortstop withprodigious power (68 home runs in the past two years in the minors) who islearning to play third base and will start the season in Triple A Salt LakeCity.
But among the kidsonly Kendrick has celebrity connections. During a game at Fenway Park last Julyhe found himself vying for a foul ball with actor Ben Affleck, the star ofHollywoodland. After Kendrick caught the ball, robbing Affleck of a souvenir,he picked up the nickname Howiewood and got a spot with Affleck on AccessHollywood, during which the ballplayer chided the actor, "Nice try though,even for a Red Sox fan."
That brush withfame in Fenway, Kendrick recalls with a laugh, was much different from hisencounter with Giuliani. "I knew who Ben was," he says. "Hard tomiss him." The same can be said of Kendrick.
a modest proposal...
Not getting enoughrunners on base to sustain an above-average middle of the order has provedcostly to the Angels over the past two seasons, as has getting production fromthe corners. Playing Casey Kotchman (left) at first base can help fix both ofthose problems. Kotchman, 24, has a career .406 OBP in six seasons in theAngels' farm system and might have been a key part of last year's team had acase of mononucleosis, which went undiagnosed for seven months and slowed hisrecovery, not felled him. Unlike most of the Angels, Kotchman has a patientapproach at the plate, which would make him an attractive option in the number2 slot hitting behind Chone Figgins. Even if manager Mike Scioscia believesKotchman belongs lower in the lineup, he needs to make sure the rookie gets atleast 450 at bats.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
PROJECTED ROSTERWITH 2006 STATISTICS
|GARY MATTHEWS JR.*||CF||¬†||¬†||¬†||¬†|
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 77)
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.254 Batting average of Angels' opponents, the lowest mark against an ALpitching staff last year. What's more, L.A. pitchers tied for first in theleague in strikeouts and were among the top four in fewest walks allowed andlowest ERA. The team, however, was done in by a league-worst 124 errorsresulting in 80 unearned runs (second to the Indians' 84).