Kendrick sticking with his aggressive approach
Originally Published: March 5, 2008By Jonah Keri | Special to ESPN.com
Editor's note: This is the second in Jonah Keri's series of Q&As with players and executives from the Cactus League. His first Q&A was with Arizona GM Josh ByrnesHowie Kendrick is a batting champion waiting to happen. The Angels' second baseman hit better than .300 at every level of the minor leagues. In his first full season as an everyday major league player in 2007, he hit .322. But in a recent interview in the Angels' spring training clubhouse in Tempe, Ariz., he spoke at length about his desire to improve his game. Flashing an effusive smile throughout, Kendrick discussed lessons learned from veteran teammates, his hyperaggressive hitting style, and the Angels' organizational approach.
Jonah Keri: First-round draft choices probably have certain expectations for their career. You were drafted 294th overall. When you got drafted, coming from that background, what was your mentality? Did you think, "I'm definitely going to become a major leaguer?" Howie Kendrick: What it came down to for me was just playing the game. I love playing baseball, and I was always good at it. Once you've been to the minor league level, which is a stepping-stone, I mean, everybody was good. Everybody was considered one of the best players in their area. For me it wasn't really about beating anyone else. I'm my worst critic -- I'm harder on myself than anybody else. A lot of it is just grasping the game and learning a new level, learning new things. When that started happening, when I started learning new parts of the game, that's when I started having success. Hitting was the one thing I was always able to do. I became a smarter hitter, but I also became a better defender and just got a lot more knowledge of the game. The way the Angels teach baseball is an aggressive style, and they use the same level of play throughout the whole system. So as I caught on to the game, I learned that if I'm going to make mistakes, they should be aggressive mistakes. The thing was that I was able to hit, [and] that really carried me a lot. I'm letting the rest of my game just follow along. Keri: Following prospects has become a big industry. You have writers talking about players when they're 18, 19 years old, even when they're in high school. You're hitting .360 in the minors every season, you're getting some ink do you hear about all of that when it happens? Kendrick: I'm not going to say I didn't know, because I did. I mean, I think everyone does. And if they tell you they don't, they're probably lying [laughs]. I never really focused on the prospect status, though. My whole life nobody's really given me anything. I've had to work for everything. My work ethic and the way I go about the game helped me out a lot. When it comes to playing baseball, it's a team game. You have to bring your best to help out your teammates. Fortunately enough, I was able to bring my best, and with that came some success. I feel like if I can continue to be successful, that can help our team, and hopefully we can continue to keep winning. Keri: You swing early in the count more than almost anyone in the game. Is it because you feel like you find more pitches to hit early in the count? Is that why you approach it that way? Kendrick: I'm an aggressive-style hitter. Sometimes if I get a fastball early, I'm going to try to jump on it. I make a lot of contact. Sometimes I'll swing at bad pitches and make contact, put 'em in play. I want to keep that aggressive style and jump on the fastball early, get my pitch to hit. The sooner you get your pitch to hit, the better off you're going to be, if you can make solid contact consistently. If you can continue to do that, I think you can be successful. Keri: It's a tough balance, because you do want to be aggressive, but at the same time in your first 600-plus at-bats of your career, you've got 18 walks. Is there a point of emphasis among the coaches and the manager where they say, "OK, be aggressive, but wait for your pitch, too"? Kendrick: You know, right now I haven't heard anything. I do understand I need to be a bit more patient. The biggest thing is you have to get your pitch to hit. Sometimes you have to wait a bit to get that pitch instead of going after whatever looks good. So sometimes I get myself out, but other times I am on the aggressive side and I'm able to get a hit. I've never really walked a lot. That's something I'd definitely want to work on, but I'm not going up to the plate trying to walk. When I get a pitch to hit, I want to put an aggressive swing on it and try to do something with the pitch, rather than just take, take, take. Sometimes you've got to take your walks, but most of the time they're going to give you a pitch to hit. I guess that comes with learning the game, especially at the major league level. It's a lot faster-paced style of game, guys are much smarter, and you always have to make adjustments. One of the things that comes with playing every day is learning to be more patient. For the most part, I'm just playing the game. I'm not thinking about how many walks I'm taking, or how often I'm swinging at the first pitch. I just play.
AP Photo/Eric RisbergHowie Kendrick, 24, is beginning his third season with the Angels.
Hitting .300 is something I would love to do every year, but who knows if that'll happen? ... You just have to go out and compete, and if you're good enough and you get some balls to fall for you, then you're going to be right at that .300 mark or somewhere close to it.
Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) is a staff writer for Grantland. His book, The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First, is a national best seller. His new book Up, Up, and Away, on the history of the Montreal Expos, is now available for preorder.