Cabrera humble, eager to work on fielding skills

Despite his Triple Crown and MVP award in '12, the slugger sees room to improve

By Jason Beck / 2/15/2013 2:36 P.M. ET

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Not even a Triple Crown, an MVP trophy and hero status in his native Venezuela can keep Miguel Cabrera from being big-timed. Even by a teammate.
After an offseason in which Cabrera was baseball's center of attention in two different countries, he settled back into Spring Training and immediately gave Alex Avila grief for blowing him off. He played it up nearly to the point of tears.
"Alex, he doesn't want to work out with me anymore," Cabrera joked. "No more love for me. He's big-time. That's OK."
Avila just smiled. They were daily workout buddies the previous two winters in south Florida when they lived near each other, but they lived about 40 minutes apart this winter and trained at different places.
"Two years ago, I picked him up every morning," Avila said, defending himself.
It was one of the rare times this offseason when Cabrera was ignored. He was on camera at home in Miami when he was announced as the American League MVP. He received the trophy in a ceremony in New York. He traveled back to Venezuela and was smothered with attention in a country that needed a positive moment in trying times.
Now that Spring Training has started, and the full Tigers squad has reported, the spotlight is back on.
Reliever Octavio Dotel joked with him from across the clubhouse, shouting that now that he has an MVP award and a Triple Crown, he speaks English.
Cabrera busted out laughing.
He's ready for the questions about the follow-up. After a historic season in which his early-morning work last Spring Training paid dividends, he wants to do the same thing this spring. The fact that he rolled into camp at 6:30 a.m. on Friday for running and lifting work was a pretty strong start. Rainy weather kept Tigers position players inside Friday, but Cabrera took ground balls inside in the batting cages.
In so doing, Cabrera was heeding the advice of a friend in Venezuela that he saw when he went home for festivities celebrating his season.
"One guy in Venezuela," Cabrera said, "He told me right away, 'Hey Miggy, that's the past already. You need to work hard to get better next year. What you did in 2012, it's over. You don't have to think about that. You have to think about moving forward.'
"That's the first thing he told me when he saw me. I said, 'Wait, wait, wait!'"
The wait is over. So is last season.
Cabrera's early morning workouts were a daily occurrence last spring, when he was making the transition to third base. While many players were on their way to the park, Cabrera was on the field at Joker Marchant Stadium, taking ground balls from infield coach Rafael Belliard. On many days, Prince Fielder was with him, doing the same.
A year later, Cabrera has settled in at third, but he doesn't plan on letting up.
"We're going to do a lot of the same stuff," Cabrera said. "We need to do the same program we did last year, especially this year, because I'm going to be out for the [World Baseball] Classic. We need to get the work done early. I need to talk to Raffy and get everything set up."
He'll be doing the same workouts with the goal of improving, much like the rest of his offseason work. With his 30th birthday coming up in April, he aimed to strengthen his legs, but he also wanted to work on his quickness from side-to-side.
He wants to improve his first step, so he is quicker to slow ground balls on either side. His reactions were quick enough last season, as he showed snaring line drives. Now, he intends to better take advantage of the strides he has made.
His pride in playing third base was evident from the outset last season. It didn't wane despite the fact that he hit so well.
That's the area where he can show tangible improvement. As a hitter, consciously trying to repeat a Triple Crown -- an honor that hinges in part on other players' statistics -- would be a fool's game. A third consecutive batting title, something no American Leaguer has done since Wade Boggs a quarter century ago, would seem more realistic. Again, though, it's all relative.
What Cabrera wants at this point in his career is the same as ever: consistency.
"I always believe you can be consistent," Cabrera said. "I don't know if you're going to get better, but my goal is always to be consistent."
His manager would gladly take that.
"Those guys, in reality, they know they're good," manager Jim Leyland said. "They're going to be successful. But sometimes people set the bar so high that it's almost impossible to reach that, so that's a little unfair. ... He's probably not going to win the Triple Crown this year, but he is going to have one heckuva year, I'll tell you that right now."
That's the trap he has to elude. Cabrera can't live in the shadow of the Triple Crown. He can't live in the glory of it, either. When his catcher big-times him, he knows to stay humble.