Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick takes batting practice during spring… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
TEMPE, Ariz. — The breathless stories that tracked Howie Kendrick through the minor leagues and into the majors were all but required to refer to him as a future batting champion.
And why not? In his four full minor league seasons, he batted .368, .367, .366 and .369. In 2007, the first year he broke camp with the Angels, he batted .322. He was 24.
He turns 30 this summer. In the three years he has had enough at-bats to qualify for the American League batting title, he has not finished in the top 20.
The Angels are happy with their second baseman. Kendrick is a career .292 hitter, and last year the Angels signed him to a four-year contract for $33.5 million.
Kendrick said he would consider it "awesome" to win a batting title but would prefer the Angels win a championship.
"Winning, that's what it comes down to," he said.
Angels hitting instructor Jim Eppard, who also coached Kendrick in the minors, said he believes a batting title remains within reach, even with the hype long gone.
"Maybe it's unfair to put those kinds of expectations on a young man like that," Eppard said. "The whole story isn't written yet. There's still time for him to do that. It's in there."
Kendrick noted that his son has started to play baseball, and to learn about plate discipline.
"That's something I wish I would have worked on in Little League," Kendrick said.
Kendrick last year ranked 22nd in the AL in batting average, 55th in on-base percentage. His career high in walks is 33, fewer than half the number Mike Trout had in five months as a rookie.
Yes, Kendrick says, he does work on plate discipline.
"I've gotten better at it every year," he said. "I'm not saying I'm going to walk 50 times, but that would be awesome."
The Angels open Cactus League play Saturday with split-squad games, to the displeasure of Manager Mike Scioscia.
"A split squad the first day is absurd," Scioscia said. "It just makes no sense."
With 15 teams in the Cactus League, at least one split-squad game must be scheduled each day in order for every team to play. That is imperative on weekends, when games attract the largest crowds.
The Angels are holding back their regular starting pitchers so they can prepare on a normal spring schedule — this spring is one week longer because of the World Baseball Classic — and all the minor leaguers have not yet reported to camp. As a result, Scioscia is concerned about the domino effect two games Saturday could have on the pitching staff.
Jerome Williams and Brad Mills will draw the starts Saturday, with Williams at home against the Chicago Cubs and Mills on the road against the San Francisco Giants. Barry Enright, Garrett Richards, A.J. Schugel and Nick Maronde will start on the following days.
The Angels will not use any regular starters until March 1. Jered Weaver will start that day, with C.J. Wilson, Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson following in order. Scioscia said that would not necessarily be the order of the starting rotation when the season starts.
The Angels will put single-game tickets on sale Saturday at 9 a.m. PST. They say no more than 7,000 opening-day tickets will be available, because of strong sales of season tickets and group packages.