Detroit Tigers’ Javier Baez: Miguel Cabrera’s mentorship can ‘take me to the next level’

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers shortstop Javier Baez has plenty of top-tier qualities, such as clout in batter’s box, elite defense, magical baserunning and the understanding of what it takes to win a World Series.

The 29-year-old wears his emotions on his sleeve and carries the nickname “El Mago,” which translates to “The Magician.”

But Baez has terrible plate discipline.

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On the bright side, he thinks he can change his ways.

“The way Miggy has done this, many years and many swings, I want to have that confidence to have an approach like Miggy and something that takes me to the next level,” Baez said Wednesday. “I haven’t had my best season yet, so I’m working to have a great season. I want to talk to Miggy to learn something about swings, then I can keep the same swing for the rest of my career. I’m working on trying to see the ball better and chase less pitches.”

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Although Baez probably won’t completely shake his strikeout struggles, even a small improvement — while keeping his home-run swing intact — would go a long way for the player who led the National League in strikeouts last season.

If Baez does this, he might cash in.

Winning the American League MVP — Baez finished second in 2018 NL MVP voting — nets him an award bonus of $1 million in 2022-23, then $2 million in 2024-27. (He earns $200,000 for second-fifth place and $100,000 for sixth-10th place.) He signed a six-year, $140 million contract with the Tigers and has an opt-out after his second year.

That $2 million bonus for MVP mirrors the reward Cabrera can receive for the same accomplishment.

Maybe Cabrera, entering his 20th season with a Hall of Fame résumé, could be the key to unlocking an even better Baez. (Cabrera makes $32 million in each of the next two seasons before his contract expires.)

“We follow each other on social media,” Baez said. “We talk a lot. We’ve played against each other, obviously during the league (MLB) and the (World) Baseball Classic, so we have had some time to talk about friends and stuff.”

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Among 132 qualified batters last season, Baez ranked last in contact rate (62.2%) and in swing-and-miss rate (40.5%). He had the fifth-most strikeouts in all of baseball with 184, giving him a 33.6% strikeout rate. He walked just 28 times for a 5.1% walk rate.

Over his eight-year career, Baez owns a 29.3% strikeout rate and 4.8% walk rate.

His strikeout rate has grown each year since 2018. In 2021, though, he had a 36.3% strikeout rate with the Chicago Cubs (91 games) and a 28.5% strikeout rate with the New York Mets (47 games) after a trade in July.

“Last year, I cut (strikeouts) a little bit because I was focused on seeing the ball,” Baez said. “I had a pretty good approach. But, you know, I want to keep that approach and keep learning from Miggy, too, and from the hitting coaches.”

[ Why signing shortstop Javier Baez is ‘turning point’ for Tigers ]

Cabrera, 38, is one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball history. With 13 more hits and three more doubles, he will become the third player to reach the 3,000-hit, 500-home run and 600-double plateaus, joining Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols.

For his career, the 2012 Triple Crown winner and two-time AL MVP has a 17.6% strikeout rate and 10.9% walk rate.

“It’s not every day you get to play with a Hall of Famer,” Tigers veteran outfielder Robbie Grossman said last September in Pittsburgh. “I even joked with him earlier. I said, ‘You got your Hall of Fame speech ready?’ We were watching the Derek Jeter (Hall of Fame induction speech). I don’t take any day for granted getting a chance to play with him.”

Cabrera and Baez combine for 91 games and 363 plate appearances in the playoffs. As it stands right now, they are the Tigers’ two most experienced postseason hitters.

MORE ON MIGGY: How Miguel Cabrera’s epic 500-homer journey to history began in Venezuela

“I wanted to be with one of the best teams,” Baez said. “Having Miggy here, he’s one of the best hitters in baseball. With all the young talent we have coming up, I think we have a pretty good chance to make the World Series. That’s what we’re here for.”

If Baez becomes a more complete hitter, he could carry the Tigers to the playoffs.

“He’s been on a World Series team before,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s seen it go from maybe an immature team to a very mature team to winning the World Series to the pressure that come after winning the World Series.

“Watching him respond and grow, he’s got an incredible impact on a team.

“I think Javy, with the way his career has gone, the impact that he’s had, the ups and downs and everywhere in between, has come out of it a super tough kid that knows how to win. Part of being a high-end player at this league is not just what you do on a nightly basis. It’s also how you impact your teammates.”

Contact Evan Petzold at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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