LAKELAND, Fla. — It was early on a spring training morning at the Detroit Tigers’ camp, more than an hour before the team’s daily workout was scheduled to begin, and Miguel Cabrera was sweating profusely.
“Sorry, man, let me get a second to catch my breath,” the first baseman said when approached by an interviewer. “I gotta catch my breath.”
Cabrera is two years removed from becoming the first major leaguer to win a Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. In many ways, Cabrera had an even better season last year while winning his third consecutive American League batting title and helping lead the Tigers to their third straight AL Central title. But Cabrera isn’t resting on his otherworldly numbers.
“You always want to get better,” he said. “You never want to be satisfied.”
While Cabrera was justifiably labeled as immature earlier in his career for being involved in a couple of ugly alcohol-related incidents, he turns 31 on April 18 and seems to be all grown up now.
“I’ve really been impressed by his work ethic,” Tigers first-year manager Brad Ausmus said. “He works as hard as anyone on our team. When you have a superstar players who works that hard, it has a positive effect throughout the clubhouse.”
It seems almost impossible for Cabrera to get better from a statistical standpoint.
He had a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBIs in 161 games while winning the Triple Crown in 2012, posting a .999 OPS for good measure. Cabrera lifted that OPS to 1.078 last season to go with a .348 average, 44 homers and 137 RBIs. Only Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis kept Cabrera from a second straight Triple Crown by leading the AL with 53 homers and 138 RBIs.
Cabrera put up fantastic numbers despite being hampered over the final two months of the season by a torn groin muscle that required surgery after the Tigers lost to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. While Cabrera makes no excuses, many Tigers observers believe Cabrera would have finished ahead of Davis in homers and RBIs if he had stayed healthy. Cabrera, though, doesn’t lament the missed opportunity.
“Last year was last year and now it’s time to start a new year,” Cabrera said. “I’m excited. I feel healthy again and we have a good team that is capable of doing a lot of great things.”
The Tigers, though, are without Prince Fielder. The beefy first baseman was traded to the Texas Rangers in November for second baseman Ian Kinsler after batting cleanup in each of his two seasons in Detroit, directly behind Cabrera; the pair drew a combined 36 intentional walks during that span.
Designated hitter Victor Martinez moves up from the No. 5 spot in the batting order to hit behind Cabrera this season. However, Cabrera does not believe teams will pitch around him anymore with a new cleanup hitter and he is also unconcerned about going back to first base this season after shifting across the diamond to third base in 2012 when Fielder was signed to a monstrous nine-year, $214 million contract as a free agent.
“Prince is a good hitter and a friend and I’ll miss him, but we’re still a good team,” Cabrera said. “Victor is a dangerous hitter who can drive in a lot of runs. Pitchers respect Victor.”