The Lefties’ Kevin Kendall prepares to throw to first in a June 20 game against the Bend Elks at Civic Field. Kendall, 18, will be a freshman at UCLA this fall and is one of the youngest players in the West Coast League.                                Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

The Lefties’ Kevin Kendall prepares to throw to first in a June 20 game against the Bend Elks at Civic Field. Kendall, 18, will be a freshman at UCLA this fall and is one of the youngest players in the West Coast League. Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

LEFTIES: Success ‘Bruin’ for UCLA-bound Kendall

PORT ANGELES — Kevin Kendall exchanged his cap and gown after graduating from La Mirada (Calif.) High School in late May for Port Angeles Lefties blue and orange and hasn’t looked back, impressing his coaches and teammates with his ability to hit for average, overall speed and fielding ability.

The UCLA-bound product turned 18 years old last month while on a road trip against the Cowlitz Black Bears.

Despite his previous lack of experience against college-level competition, Kendall has been a stalwart in Port Angeles’ middle infield, and at the plate where (through the All-Star break) he was second on the team in batting average at .320, just behind Austyn Tengan at .324.

Kendall has 24 hits in 26 games so far, scoring 11 runs and hitting seven doubles and a triple, along with 11 walks and four stolen bases.

His walkoff RBI-double lifted the Lefties to a 7-6 win last Sunday over Corvallis to help Port Angeles head into the All-Star break on a high note.

And Kendall picked Walla Walla apart on a recent two-game road trip, going 4 for 6 with a triple, a bases-clearing double, a walk, two runs and three RBIs.

“I talked with Frank [Mutz] the head coach at Walla Walla and he said, ‘We just can’t get him out,’ ” Port Angeles manager Zach Miller said.

“He’s definitely been solid for us, he’s working hard every day and always asking questions of us coaches and that’s what you want to see out of a young kid.

“There’s a reason why he’s up here. He’s the real deal and the ceiling for him is very, very high. He’ll be one to keep an eye on. And he’s a good kid all around.”

Kendall said the biggest adjustment he’s made from high school ball to the West Coast League has “probably been just seeing the upper-level competition every single night and finding that routine of coming in and being prepared to play each night.”

Miller said the Lefties are helping Kendall focus on amplifying his strengths this summer.

“We are trying to get him to play a little more small ball at the plate because he’s got the speed,” Miller said.

“The defensive part is just a confidence thing, building that, instilling that because he’s got the foot speed, he’s got the arm strength. Just building the confidence in his fielding motions and his throwing motions.”

Kendall could have played another summer of travel ball in the Los Angeles area, but the day-in, day-out nature of the West Coast League should serve him better for the slate of fall ball exhibition games he’ll play for UCLA this autumn.

“Savage, our head coach, sends a lot of players up here, and with a new team and me being a young guy it was a good fit,” Kendall said.

“The UCLA coaches told me to just play hard every day. To focus on the process and putting myself in the best shape for next year. “It would be tough to not play a game all summer and then go into fall ball where you’ll be playing every day.”

And Kendall is amped to get started in Westwood, to join a program that’s made 21 NCAA tournament appearances, 11 since 2004, including a 2013 College World Series championship, the first in school history.

“There’s nothing like it,” he said. “I couldn’t be more excited to join another premier program, it’s something special. [His college choices] came down to USC and Oregon and UCLA won out because you can’t go wrong with the education, it’s the best in the country and the history of the baseball program.”

He’ll also be competing for a position played by the beyond legendary Jackie Robinson in his one year of Bruin baseball.

“I’ve always grown up at shortstop and I’ll probably take reps there, but I can play third base through second base. Wherever they need me I’ll be able to play,” Kendall said.

“After talking with his coach on the phone he’s going to have a good shot at going in and vying for the second base spot,” Miller said.

“They have a pretty physical shortstop coming back. So if he’s not starting at first, he’ll platoon, but I definitely see him competing for a starting spot quickly.

“He has the tools the quickness, the arm. And he’ll get into a weight program down there and get bigger and stronger.”

He’ll continue to work on the small stuff in his time with Port Angeles.

“The little details, and improving my strength, speed and flexibility,” Kendall said. “Improving those doesn’t happen overnight.

“I’ve been asking the coaches little tips about the game. And I’m going to ask questions and try to learn more about the game because the day I know everything about the game will be the day I hang up my cleats.”

And for a player with such potential, that day is likely to be a long way off.

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