Star slugger Cabrera, Tigers start spring with a new outlook

Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera follows through on his 499th career home run, during the fifth inning of the team's baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, in Baltimore. (Gail Burton, The Associated Press 2021)

LAKELAND, Fla. – Miguel Cabrera showed up Sunday morning for the start of his 20th spring training camp in the majors, his 15th with the Detroit Tigers.

This one is a little different. For the first time since 2016, the fortified Tigers are thinking about winning, perhaps even contending.

“I think we’ve got an opportunity to do that here, so I’m really excited and ready to go,” said the 38-year-old Cabrera, who needs only 13 hits to reach 3,000 for his career.

The Tigers went 77-85 last season in their first year under manager A.J. Hinch. It was a big leap up from four straight seasons of winning percentages under .400.

The 2021 Tigers had a winning record after May 7, then boosted their roster with three veterans ahead of the 99-day MLB lockout.

“Our manager and organization sent a new message last year that it’s time to win, and they showed that this past offseason, signing two big guys for our team,” Cabrera noted. “Hopefully we can stay healthy and compete.”

In November, Detroit traded for catcher Tucker Barnhart from Cincinnati, then signed left-handed pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez and shortstop Javier Báez to long-term contracts.

Those acquisitions and the arrivals of prospects Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson gave the Tigers a different look and a different set of expectations as they prepared for Monday’s first organized workout.

“We need to set the bar high,” Hinch said. “As we come into this camp, we got the feel of winning a little bit, not a lot, and I think we need to continue the same message.”

Outfielder Robbie Grossman noticed.

“There’a a buzz in the clubhouse,” he said. “We’ve brought in some really good players. We’re only going to get better so our expectations are getting higher and higher.”

Greene, a 21-year-old outfielder, was the fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft. The 22-year-old Torkelson, the first overall pick in 2020, is a first baseman. They are among 17 non-roster players who have been in camp for weeks while the major league veterans waited for the lockout to end.

“I think they’re tremendous prospects,” Hinch said. “They’re going to have an opportunity to showcase what they can do and how they fit.”

Whether Greene and/or Torkelson make the opening-day roster will affect other roster decisions, such as whether Detroit starts the season with five outfielders or three catchers, how much Cabrera plays first base and whether Jonathan Schoop plays first base or second base, Hinch said.

Cabrera hit .256 with 15 home runs and 75 RBIs in 130 games last year. He finished the season with 502 career homers.

The 28-year-old Rodríguez joins Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning in the starting pitching rotation. Tyler Alexander has the inside track on the fifth spot, although Hinch said “he also can be a very valuable Swiss army knife out of the bullpen.”

There are also one or two bullpen spots available.

Because of the quick turnaround after the MLB lockout, spring training has been squeezed into less than four weeks. The Tigers are scheduled to start their regular season on April 8 at home against the Chicago White Sox.

“The pitching has obviously got to get up and running pretty quickly,” Hinch said. “You’re looking at four starts per starter. You’re looking at trying to condense how many outings the guys have. We’ve got to get them into games a little faster. We’re not going to get a ton of looks at our younger guys in camp. But there’s 30 teams that have the same thing.”


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