Spring in his step: Miggy energizes camp

Slugger feeling stronger after spending offseason working out instead of recovering

Spring in his step: Miggy energizes camp

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The shouts could be heard across all four practice diamonds at Tiger Town, breaking the routine of the Spring Training morning workouts. It was neither an injury nor an altercation.

It was simply Miguel Cabrera, injecting energy into the first full-squad workout of camp.

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"He's generally in pretty good spirits," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He's a big kid. He enjoys what he does, has fun playing the game. He has fun with his teammates, joking around."

It's understandable to suspect there's a little more to it this year. The bounce in Cabrera's step is coming on legs that spent the offseason in the weight room rather than on the operating table. He was strengthening rather than recuperating.

After a groin tear a few years ago, then foot and ankle surgery the next fall, Cabrera went into this offseason with nothing to repair. Yes, his surgically repaired right ankle wasn't as strong as he wanted down the stretch, and his left calf is still bothersome, but he stayed off the operating table.

"First time in three years I worked out normally," Cabrera said. "It was exciting to me. I was getting my legs in shape, trying to get strong for the season."

The difference, teammate J.D. Martinez said, was noticeable.

"We hit [together] a couple days," Martinez said, "but Miggy's on a different level."

He's on a level that, even without full strength in his legs, he won his fourth batting title in five years last season.

Miggy wins batting title

"He still won a batting title, but maybe those balls weren't traveling like they used to," Martinez said. "But I think this year, given his ankle's feeling better, he's able to condition his legs, I wouldn't be shocked if he went out there and hit 40 [home runs] again."

Time will tell on that. But as Cabrera took batting practice on the back fields at Tiger Town, he could put more behind the ball.

"I feel the difference," he said. "I can use my back leg more. Also, I can stay back and drive through the ball. I can drive more into the gap."

Cabrera has always benefited from opposite-field power, but he still does damage pulling the ball. Last year, he pulled just two home runs out to left field, according to Baseball-Reference, and just five the year before, compared to 17 in 2013.

Cabrera isn't making any predictions on production. After the injuries, including a costly six-week stint on the disabled list last summer, his goal is simple: Stay on the field.

"Play 160 games," he said. "That's my goal, not trying to miss too many games."

Martinez and Cabrera couldn't work out together all the time, partly because they live in different parts of South Florida, partly because they're in different stages of their lives.

"He's got kids," Martinez said. "He wakes up early. I like to get an extra couple hours of sleep."

Cabrera laughed.

"He worked out on Christmas," Cabrera exclaimed. "He texted me, 'Where you at?' I mean, I've got kids!"

With that, Cabrera laughed loudly, heard across the clubhouse. It's a sign of Spring Training -- and maybe this year, a sign of the return of the Tigers.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.