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Hunter predicts big things for Howie Kendrick

TEMPE, Ariz. -- I was chatting with Torii Hunter when the conversation wandered to Howie Kendrick, who has been blistering the ball so far this spring.

"I think he's going to win the batting title," Hunter said. "If not this year, then soon. He's in his prime, has a contract, knows where he's going to be. A lot of stuff has been lifted off his shoulders. And, he has one of the best hitters in the history of the game hitting behind him. That's a lot going for him."

The batting-title talk has been around Kendrick since his days in the minor leagues, where he batted .360. It's not as if he has been an unproductive player -- he's a .292 career hitter in the majors -- but most people think Kendrick has the potential for more. So far, since Albert Pujols arrived in the No. 3 spot in the lineup right behind him, Kendrick has shown flashes of reaching it. He's 11-for-18 this spring, including three extra-base hits.

Kendrick, 28, has appeared more at ease this spring, probably due to the four-year, $33.5 million contract extension he signed in January.