Slugger Cabrera merely getting finer with age

Slugger Cabrera merely getting finer with age

Slugger Cabrera merely getting finer with age
DETROIT -- Miguel Cabrera's 300th Major League home run was a 457-foot drive into the camera well perched above Comerica Park's center-field wall. His real big drive of the weekend, though, was the one that didn't count.

So few saw it, in fact, that Tigers infielder Danny Worth is one of the few eyewitnesses.

"Miggy hit a ball over the fountain, out of the stadium, dead central during BP today," Worth tweeted Friday night.

It happened during pregame batting practice Friday afternoon, before the gates to the ballpark opened, Worth explained Sunday. He saw Cabrera launch a ball to straightaway center that kept soaring towards the fountain.

Worth said Sunday he kept watching to see where it hit, and never saw it hit anything. He double-checked with teammate Andy Dirks, who backed him up. Then he checked with Tigers promotions director Eli Bayless, who didn't see it but gave Worth a pointer: There's a pool of water where the fountains are, a good couple feet deep, so if it landed up there he should have seen a splash.

He didn't see a splash. So as best he can determine, Cabrera either lined it under the Chevrolet lettering or lofted it over that. Either way, he seemingly cleared the fountain.

"The wind wasn't even blowing out," Worth said.

That's your latest member of the 300-homer club, and Cabrera won't turn 30 until next April. He's entering milestone territory at the top of his game, and he's making it all too interesting to imagine what he could do before he retires, if he keeps himself in shape.

"I hope people really take notice and realize what kind of player he is, what you're seeing," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. "I mean, players like him, those are the type of players that come around and then you retire their number after. People need to realize that. He's special. It's fun to watch."

Avila and other teammates are glad to talk about Cabrera's game because Cabrera so rarely does. He'll talk about teammates or other hitters in baseball, but he doesn't like talking about himself, or making the game about him.

"It means a lot, you know," Cabrera said of his latest milestone. "It means a lot to me and my family. But right now we're focused about playing hard, winning games and try to win the Central."

Cabrera is the 25th player to reach the 300-homer mark within his first 10 seasons, and the 11th youngest to do it. The simple math of getting this far, this soon leads to expectations of what lies ahead. The fact that he's enjoying one of his best seasons at a time when he should be in his prime adds to it.

Before Cabrera's two-homer game Sunday, Tigers manager Jim Leyland compared him in his sport to what Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and Wayne Gretzky were/are in theirs. He stuck to it afterwards.

"He's a superstar. That's what he is," Leyland said. "He's one of those guys that's a couple notches above most people, obviously, offensively. He's having a wonderful, wonderful career. Hopefully it'll be a long, long career, and hopefully he'll end up in Cooperstown."

His career track suggests it. Out of the top 10 similar batters through age 28 listed on Cabrera's baseball-reference.com page, six of the top eight are in the Hall of Fame. The other two are Ken Griffey Jr. and Albert Pujols.

In four years in Detroit, Cabrera has an American League home-run title (37 in 2008), an RBI title (126 in 2010) and a batting crown (.344 in 2011) to his credit. He has finished in the top five in MVP balloting in each of the past three seasons, ending up as the runner-up in 2010.

Cabrera has never posted a 40-homer season, but he's awfully close to that pace this year. With Sunday's two homers, he stands at 23 through 96 games, with the two-thirds point of the season not coming for another two weeks. His homer pace has dropped over the second half of the season for the past few years, but he has five through 10 games since the All-Star break.

Cabrera's power is massive, yet his bat quickness impresses more. He doesn't do damage with just brute strength. How those qualities hold up as Cabrera moves into his early- and mid-30s is a fair question, but while his homer totals have remained consistent, his batting average has actually improved the past couple years, from consistently in the .320s to .344 last year. He has a .330 average right now.

Cabrera's ability to maintain those kind of numbers with a slimmed-down frame for third base, after he'd spent the past three years at first base, bodes well for him. The more he can avoid weight problems, the less likely his durability will come into question.

There's a skill, too, that goes beyond physicality with him: He's a smart hitter, Avila said.

"Everybody knows how talented he is, how strong he is and stuff like that," Avila said. "But the part you don't see, unless you're on the field in the game or in the dugout, is the adjustments that he makes, being able to do that pitch to pitch and remember how a guy either got him out, or almost kind of knowing how the guy's going to get him out, and being able to adjust to that and counter that. There's times when you get a feeling he's going to hit a home run, just by the way he's up there and the way he's taking pitches. It's pretty incredible.

"Where myself or [Brennan] Boesch or [Austin Jackson] have to go back to see, let's say, 'How did Peavy get me out last time we faced him,' or something like that, [Cabrera] doesn't have to do that. He just remembers things. That's something that a lot of people don't realize, how smart of a hitter he is."

That part doesn't diminish with age. But then, with Cabrera's ability, it's hard to say how much age will take away for a while.

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