GSA Spotlight: UC Irvine's Caden Kendle

Photo credit: Matt Brown/UC Irvine

Had the Blue Line Trolley been passing by at that moment, it would’ve been the Black-and-Blue Trolley.

That’s because UC Irvine center fielder Caden Kendle – playing his first series as a full-fledged collegiate starter – smashed a mammoth home run on April 10, 2022, a shot that landed on the train tracks at UC San Diego, some 465 feet from home plate.

“Caden is a hard-nosed guy who crushes baseballs,” UC Irvine hitting coach J.T. Bloodworth said. “He has brute strength.”

But Kendle, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound righthanded hitter, is more than just strong. He’s a pure hitter who was named the Big West Conference’s Co-Player of the Year last season, posting a .338 average with 27 extra-base hits and 56 RBIs in 55 games. Seven of those hits were homers.

Ben Orloff, who is in his sixth year as UC Irvine’s head coach, knows quite a bit about Big West Player of the Year. A former UC Irvine shortstop, Orloff won that same award in 2009.

Orloff said Kendle’s athleticism is literally off the charts for most baseball players. Kendle, for example, can do a standing backflip and also a front flip.

“He has a 42-inch vertical leap,” Orloff said of Kendle’s NBA-type hops. “He’s also highly coachable and competitive, and all he cares about is winning.”

Things haven’t always been this easy for Kendle, however.

In high school, he missed his entire sophomore season due to illness. He also missed his entire senior year at Marina High (Huntington, Calif.) due to injury.

In the summer before his sophomore year, Kendle went to Arizona with his travel-ball team. In the second game of the tournament, Kendle fell ill with 103-degree fever.

“I was throwing up on the field,” Kendle said, “and my back hurt. I was thinking, ‘What’s going on?’”

Kendle went home, and his fever soon disappeared. But in a subsequent family vacation to Costa Rica, things got even worse.

“On the flight over, my back and neck were jacked up,” Kendle said. “It felt like I was constantly being stabbed.”

It was a miserable vacation for Kendle, who never left his hotel-room bed.

Once he got home, doctors diagnosed Kendle with a bacterial infection that required surgery. But because the infection was wrapped around his spinal cord, no operation was performed due to the inherent danger.

Instead, Kendle was treated with medicine. He was hospitalized for about 10 days back home in California, and the illness took its toll.

Kendle, who was 5-foot-8 at that time, lost 30 pounds – from 160 to 130.

Fortunately, Kendle recovered fully, and the baseball world started to notice him.

In the fall of his senior year, Anteaters coaches were tipped off by a scout about an under-the-radar kid named … Caden Kendle.

Anteaters pitching coach Daniel Bibona went to see him at a fall-league tournament just four miles from UC Irvine’s campus. Bibona videotaped Kendle’s first at-bat, texting it to Orloff.

Just a few minutes later – in time for Kendle’s second at-bat – Orloff was there, and a scholarship offer soon followed.

Kendle, who had interest from Hawaii and Pepperdine, quickly committed to UC Irvine, the school that sits just a 15-minute car ride from his family’s home.

“I always wanted to play here,” Kendle said.

But after signing with UC Irvine in November of 2019, Kendle was hit with more adversity.

While pitching in an intra-squad game just a couple of weeks after National Signing Day, Kendle tore the ACL on his right knee.

“I was the closer for my high school team,” Kendle said. “I tried to field a swinging bunt when I heard a ‘pop, pop, pop.’”

Kendle returned from injury as a UC Irvine freshman in 2021, but he was stuck behind an outfield that included Co-Big West Player of the Year Mike Peabody; team captain Jake Palmer (more on him later); and Nathan Church, who broke the Anteaters’ single-season hits record.

With all that talent, Kendle made just five starts and got only 27 at-bats, hitting .111 with a .320 OPS.

Despite the sparse playing time, Kendle never complained.

“I just tried to be a good teammate,” Kendle said, “support my guys.”

Kendle had his breakout season as a sophomore in 2022, making first-team All-Big West. He hit a team-best .328 with six homers and a .998 OPS.

But Kendle started that season as a reserve, and it was only due to another outfielder’s injury that he got a chance the weekend he hit that fastball all the way to the train tracks.

Then, after winning Co-Big West Player of the Year in 2023, Kendle has followed that up with an even better campaign in 2024.

Kendle enters this weekend with a .434 batting average, 32 RBIs in 24 games and a 1.166 OPS.

The Anteaters star is closing in on two of his head coach’s school records. Entering this weekend, Kendle needs 119 hits and 51 runs to break Orloff’s career marks.

However, Kendle – who was drafted in the 10th round last year by the Cardinals – is not likely to postpone his pro career past this season.

He came back this year because he believed the Anteaters would have a good team, and they do … as their 24-5 record indicates.

“You only get to play college baseball and have these memories for so long,” Kendle said. “I wanted to get my degree, and I didn’t want to miss out on this year.”

There’s no question Kendle is making memories.

On March 3, for example, he hit a seventh-inning grand slam in a 5-2 win over UCLA at famed Dodger Stadium. His blast snapped a 1-1 tie, and he got the best of his former teammate Palmer, who is now the director of player development at UCLA.

“Caden is a tough, hard-working kid,” Palmer said when reached by “He can take over any game.”

On March 29-30, Kendle put on another show, getting eight straight hits – plus two walks – in two consecutive wins at Hawaii.

One of the reasons why Kendle has an advanced hit tool is his ability to connect with two strikes.

This year, he is hitting .415 (17-for-41) with 14 RBIs on two-strike counts. He also has five walks, six hit-by-pitches and that huge grand slam with two strikes.

“He’s incredible,” Bloodworth said. “I think he’s better with two strikes than he is with a 0-0 count.

“He rarely chases out of the zone, and he’s just so competitive.”

Kendle, an Angels fan whose favorite MLB players are Mike Trout and the Phillies’ Bryce Harper, said his biggest thrill was that slam at Dodger Stadium.

“It was surreal,” Kendle said. “We all dream of playing in a big league stadium, and this was my first time.

“Without question, it was the coolest thing I’ve done in baseball.”

Even cooler, apparently, than hitting a moon shot off the train tracks. is your online home for college baseball scores, schedules, standings, statistics, analysis, features, podcasts and prospect coverage.