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Trim Cabrera impressed by company

Trim Cabrera impressed by company

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Miguel Cabrera walked into his new clubhouse on Monday, saw who his neighbors would be, and was immediately impressed. The full team hadn't arrived yet at Spring Training for the Detroit Tigers, but already he felt surrounded by great players.

"I see next to my locker, I see [Gary] Sheffield," Cabrera said. "I see [Edgar] Renteria, Magglio [Ordonez]. I'm excited, you know? It's like a dream come true."

So exciting, Cabrera said, that it felt like his first day in the Major Leagues. Considering he hit a walk-off home run in his big league debut, that's quite a feeling. If he can duplicate feats like that, the feeling from his new club will be mutual.

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"We've got a team here," manager Jim Leyland said. "That's what we've got. And he's going to be a huge part of our team."

It didn't take long for him to start fitting in. The fact that he knows so many of his teammates already helps. Carlos Guillen, his close friend from his hometown of Maracay, Venezuela, struck up a conversation as soon as he saw him. Though they grew up within minutes of each other, they never struck up a lasting friendship until they met as opponents in the 2002 Venezuelan League finals, a championship that Guillen's Magallanes team won.

Guillen knew about Cabrera before then. Everybody did, he said, because of how good he was. Now, Guillen said, Cabrera is the best player in Venezuela -- even better than Ordonez because he's so much younger.

"Everywhere he goes, he wins," Guillen said. "He's an exciting guy. Energy. He works hard. He's smart. That's why he came up so fast."

Others feel similarly about him. Ivan Rodriguez, his teammate on the 2003 World Series champion Florida Marlins, gave him a bear hug. Dontrelle Willis, his longtime teammate in Florida who came to Detroit in the same trade in December, patted Cabrera on his belly as he hugged him on his way in. There wasn't much to pat.

"No belly," Cabrera said with a smile.

As good as he looked during TigerFest, having lost at least 15 pounds since last season by most estimations, he looked even better on Monday. Cabrera wouldn't give a number as to how much weight he had dropped, but said he's actually slightly under his playing weight right now. He credited his work with a personal trainer for making the difference.

"Since the end of the season," Cabrera said, "I've been working a lot to get ready for a big year."

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Leyland didn't want to delve too much into the weight issue. He considers it a personal matter. Nonetheless, Leyland concurred, Cabrera looked good.

"He knows where he needs to be and where he feels his best," Leyland said. "Some guys are big guys. They're big guys for a reason. I don't want to turn him into Twiggy."

What effect all the training has on Cabrera as a third baseman remains to be seen. Cabrera, for his part, agreed that he wanted to improve at the hot corner, certainly to cut down on his error total that reached a career-high 23 last year.

"I feel good now," he said. "But if I don't do well in the field, I don't feel good."

Beyond his range, however, Cabrera sees room for improvement in his all-around defensive game.

"Less errors on the throws," he said. "Slow rollers, I want to work on that -- make sure I don't make too many bad throws to Carlos."

He'll eventually work with infield coach Rafael Belliard once full-squad workouts begin in earnest later this week. That said, don't expect the Tigers to give his game an overhaul.

"You don't want to go in there the first day and start saying, 'You've got to do this. You've got to do that.' We don't know that," Leyland said. "I got reports that he's a very good third baseman, good soft hands and an accurate arm.

"This guy has all the ingredients to be a total, big-time player for a long time. There's no question about that. Now you've just got to make sure that they do that."

Offensively, of course, he already has the credentials, including career highs of 34 home runs and 119 RBIs last season. He comes into camp off a winter ball season that saw him bat .375 (9-for-24) in the regular season, then 10-for-22 in the finals to put Aragua in the Caribbean Series.

"It helps me a lot to come in here and be ready for Spring Training," he said. "It makes it easy to get ready for the season to open."

As for the transition between the National and American Leagues, he isn't too worried.

"Magglio, he'll teach me," Cabrera said with a smile. "He's a batting champion."

Playing beside Ordonez is part of Cabrera's dream come true. He can only hope the dream ends with a championship.

"It's a lot of work. We have to take it step by step," he said. "But we've got a chance. We've got a great team. We have to stay healthy and play a lot of baseball, do our jobs."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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