Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press
LAKELAND, Fla. — Former two-time American League MVP Miguel Cabrera, the elder statesman of the Detroit Tigers, took batting practice Friday, surrounded by up-and-coming prospects, at Joker Marchant Stadium.
And then the soon-to-be 38-year-old explained why his body feels like it did in 2014, just two years after he sat on baseball’s throne as the Triple Crown winner. That year, at age 31, he played 159 games — more than in any season since.
“Right now, I feel like I did back when I was in 2014,” Cabrera said Friday. “I feel more like when I was healthy, with my legs, my hips. I can move my body when hitting. I don’t try to do too much. I swing naturally. I think that’s going to help me a lot this year to produce more and hit for more power.”
With third base coach Chip Hale throwing the ball, Cabrera picked right field for his first round of swings. He went to center field in his second round and then sprayed down the left-field line in his third round.
Between the second and third rounds, the 18-year veteran met up with 2020 No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson behind the cage. Torkelson, 21, hasn’t played a professional game, but he is expected to lead the organization’s future.
In 2014, Torkelson was 14 years old.
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“It’s kind of weird when they tell you that (they grew up watching me),” Cabrera said. “In the same way, you realize, ‘Wow, for how long?’ You start to understand that you’ve been in this game for a long time.”
Cabrera’s 2014 season included an AL-leading 52 doubles, along with 25 home runs, 109 RBIs and a .313 batting average. He finished ninth in MVP voting.
He made the All-Star Game for seven years in a row, from 2010-16, but has struggled with injuries since 2017. His batting averages in the last four seasons resemble the physical roadblocks: .249 in 2017, .299 in 2018, .282 in 2019 and .250 in 2020.
Last season, a healthy Cabrera paced the Tigers in home runs (10) and RBIs (35). He picked up steam down the stretch, going 8-for-19 (.421) with four homers and 12 RBIs in a four-game span from Sept. 20-24.
“He just needs to be the best version of himself now, and he’s going to be very productive,” manager AJ Hinch said Friday. “Just give me what you got, as long as you can, in any given day. It’s going to be good enough.
“He just needs to be one of those cogs in the middle of the lineup that produces along with, hopefully, what’s a long lineup of talented hitters. That’s not just about Miggy.”