Daily Dish: April 24

See also: Friday’s Daily Dish.
See also: Today’s Baseball America Prospect Report.

Only three weeks into the season, and we already have our first big name prospect getting called up to the big leagues. Because of injuries to Juan Rivera and Macier Izturis, the Angels have called up second baseman Howie Kendrick from Triple-A Salt Lake.

As has been his custom throughout his minor league career, Kendrick has been raking for the Bees. In 70 at-bats he is hitting .386/.403/.586 with two homers and eight doubles. That has improved Kendrick’™s career average in the minors to .361 over 1,255 minor league at-bats.

A 10th-round pick of the Angels in 2002 out of St. John’s River (Fla.) CC, Kendrick has increased his batting average in each year of his minor league career. In 2002 he hit .318 in the Rookie-level Arizona League, in 2003 it was .368 in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. He went on to hit .367 at low Class A Cedar Rapids in 2004 and .367 between high Class A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-Arkansas in 2005.

Kendrick was ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Angels organization and No. 12 in all of baseball because of his remarkable hitting skills. He is one of the more aggressive hitters in the minors who rarely walks and rarely strikes out. The 22-year-old has an uncanny ability to square up the ball to all fields and should be a contender for batting titles in the future.

It is unclear if Kendrick will be up for good or if he will be sent down when Izturis is healthy, but it will likely depend on his performance. Erick Aybar, a 22-year-old shortstop who is hitting .343/.378/.500 at Salt Lake was also considered for the callup before the club settled on Kendrick. He also could be auditioning for the second-base job, as Adam Kennedy’s contract expires after the 2006 season.


Hook Brings You Back

Astros righthander Matt Albers went through his ups and downs at high Class A Salem last season, but it’™s been a slightly different Albers in 2006.

He’™s thrown out four quality starts and picked up his second win of the year Sunday in a 12-2 Corpus Christi victory over Frisco. Albers allowed two runs on seven hits, struck out five and walked two in six innings.

At Salem last year, Albers really didn’t start to hit his stride until August and was hot and cold all season long en route to 8-12, 4.66 numbers after 149 innings. The 23rd-round draft-and-follow pick in 2001 out of San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College went winless in April, and throughout the first half of the season, he averaged just 4 1/3 innings an outing until July.

So far this year, Albers has lasted at least six innings in each of his first four starts. He worked hard in the offseason on increasing his endurance and smoothing out his mechanics, and the results are showing. He has 21 strikeouts and just six walks in 26 innings while going 2-1, 1.73 so far.

“He’s repeating better and really attacking hitters like he did toward the tail-end of last season,” Astros farm director Ricky Bennett said. “We’ve really been impressed with his ability to handle the challenge of what it is to pitch at the Double-A level.”

Albers could afford to attack on Sunday, as the Hooks pounded out 15 hits’"led by shortstop Ben Zobrist (2-for-4) and first baseman J.R. House (2-for-5), who is currently leading the Texas League in hitting.

But offense or not, Albers was dialed in. He pitched out of one-out, bases loaded jam in his final inning of work, pumping his fist as he headed to the dugout.

“That was huge,” Hooks manager Dave Clark told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. “He’s pitching really well and we’re not going to put that (ace designation) on him right now–we’re going to wait and see what happens. He’s definitely a competitor and goes out there, sticks to his plan and gets it done.”


The Making Of Milledge

Making adjustments is crucial to the progress of all prospects, but few have made bigger strides than Mets outfielder Lastings Milledge this season. The Mets have used him as a leadoff hitter in the high minors to take advantage of his speed, but Milledge’™s IL-leading 10 extra-base hits might be opening new doors for the toolsy center fielder.

“I really don’t know what type of hitter I’ll end up being,” Milledge told the New York Post, adding that he’s worked hard on his plate discipline this year. And the numbers confirm it: He had 12 walks and eight strikeouts in 18 games.

Nobody Beats The Wiz

The Padres’ Seth Johnston opened his pro career last summer at short-season Eugene by going 5-for-53 after being selected in the fifth round. Fortunately, the shortstop-turned-second baseman is not making a habit of slow starts.

In the midst of an 11-game hitting streak during which he is hitting .408, the Texas product is now hitting .357/.400/.471 on the season. His recent stretch has coincided with an adjustment he made in his stance, with the help of hitting coach Max Venable, to hold his hands higher.

Thanks to his impressive start, the 23-year-old’s disappointing debut from a year ago–an anticlimactic cap to a year in which he helped lead the Longhorns to the College World Series championship–is a distant memory.

“I was getting adjusted to the wood bats and hitting it at people and I was rusty after taking the two weeks off,” Johnston told The Journal-Gazette of Fort Wayne when asked about his poor 2005 pro debut. “It’s nothing I was thinking about coming into this year because it happens to people.

“It’s how you bounce back from that. You want to be consistent throughout the season. It’s nice to get that first hit instead of going 0-for-15 or whatever.”

The crazy thing is that Johnston might not even be the hottest player on his own team, which was off to a strong 10-6 start after winning twice over the weekend. That honor belongs to outfielder Will Venable (Max’ son) who is hitting .500/.609/.778 over the past week and leads the Midwest League in all three categories during the time. The 23-year-old was drafted in the seventh-round last June out of Princeton, where he was better known as a shooting guard on the Tigers’™ basketball team.

Looking Better Than .500

It’s hard to believe high Class A Tampa righthander Philip Hughes is just a .500 pitcher right now. The Yankees’ No. 1 prospect has been so good in his four starts that his ERA jumped from 0.56 to 1.57 when Reds second baseman Drew Anderson hit a two-run double against him yesterday. Hughes allowed a season-high three earned runs on six hits and no walks in seven innings, striking out six in Tampa’s 7-5 win against Sarasota. He improved to 2-2, 1.57 on the season with 24 strikeouts and just one walk in 23 innings.

Despite his sterling start, Hughes has had two very tough-luck losses. He yielded one unearned run over four innings while striking out nine in his season opener against Lakeland, a 2-1 loss for Tampa. And in his start against Fort Myers last week, Hughes allowed one earned run on two hits while striking out eight in six innings. He retired the final 17 batters he faced and still took a 1-0 loss.


• Reds righthander Elizardo Ramirez will take Eric Milton’s turn in the rotation while the latter recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery . . . Cubs righthander Angel Guzman is expected to make his major league debut Friday against the Marlins, despite going just 1-2, 6.61 for Triple-A Iowa. Guzman has shown fine control, though, issuing just three walks and striking out 23 in 16 innings. The move was made concurrent with Jerome Williams‘ demotion to Iowa.