At one point, while he was still a prospect in the minor leagues, when people (scouts, media personalities, etc) would talk about Howie Kendrick, the words "future batting champ" often followed the mention of his name.
Now, five years into his major league career, Kendrick is still looking for a breakout-type season. Not only has staying healthy been a problem, but his AVG has regressed every season since 2007.
With an ultra hot start to the 2011 season, which includes seven hits in 19 at-bats with three home runs, one might wonder if this is finally going to be the year Kendrick lives up to his potential.
Being touted as a future batting champ had placed huge expectations on Kendrick's shoulders. What has hurt him so far in his major league career is a lack of plate discipline. Up until 2009, Kendrick had not posted a walk rate over four percent and he chased a ton of pitches outside the strike-zone (40 percent chase rate in 2007 and 37 percent in 2008). However, those chase rates and walk rates have improved over the last two seasons to go along with an improvement in contact rate.
Though Kendrick was making these improvements, he didn't see positive results in his AVG. Last season, however, Kendick may have run into a bit of bad luck. His balls-in-play and good speed probably should have resulted in a higher BABIP than .313. Kendrick's career BABIP is .339, which is more in line with the fact that the vast majority of his balls-in-play are ground balls and line drives.
I have Kendrick projected at .295/.338/.435, which represents the opinion that he should see better results in his BABIP this season.
In my opinion, opposite field power (in the post-steroid era) is a great way to gauge a young hitter's true power potential. I saw this in Matt Kemp, which is why I have always been high on him. I see this in Kendrick too.
Last season, Kendrick only hit 10 home runs, but look at where he hit them...(via hittrackeronline.com
The majority of Kendrick's 2010 homers went from center to right-center. None of them were monster shots, but that's not Kendrick's game anyway. His home runs are more of the line-drive variety, which is both good and bad. Good because hitting line drives is going to help Kendrick's AVG, but bad because it limits his overall home run potential a bit.
His three 2011 home runs have followed suit...
Will this be Kendrick's breakout season?
It's only four games, so we can't make any assumptions based on his stats to date, but we can take what we've seen and apply it to the projections.
I have Kendrick projected for 12 home runs in 606 at-bats with a .435 SLG. That's a slight improvement in AB/HR rate and a 28 point improvement in SLG. My projections call for better production in 2011, so I certainly wouldn't be surprised if Kendrick takes his game to an even higher level (something around .300/.340/450).
Do I think Kendrick will hit 20 bombs? No, but he has the potential to drive 15 or so balls out of the yard in 2011 to go along with a .300-ish AVG. That type of production would represent a very good season, but not one that would make him a top-five 2B.