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'Little Miggy' hopes to have similar impact

OAK View Full Game Coverage LAND -- For the record, the Tigers signed Avisail Garcia as a Venezuelan teenager in the summer of 2007 before they traded for Miguel Cabrera that winter. There is no way the Tigers could have possibly cloned Cabrera after acquiring him.

That still doesn't prevent fans and even teammates from having fun with the resemblance between the fellow Venezuelans.

"A lot of people call him 'Little Miggy,'" Tigers infielder Ramon Santiago said. "That's his nickname now. 'Mini Miggy.'"

Never mind the eight-year difference in age. Their 6-foot-4 frames, save for a few extra pounds on Cabrera, look almost exactly alike. Their faces are close enough that fans have spotted Garcia and called out for Cabrera.

The athleticism that Garcia shows off when he has the chance reminds some scouts of a young Cabrera when he was coming up through the Marlins' system. It could be a hard charge around the bases, or a sweet opposite-field line drive.

Garcia's throw from right field to nab Coco Crisp at home plate on Sunday during a 5-4 Tigers win, however, brought up a few other names. Al Kaline was one. Magglio Ordonez was another. Cabrera himself had his share of outfield assists during his younger days in Florida, but those are distant memories now after so many years on the infield corners.

"Unbelievable," was how Cabrera described Garcia's play. "He made a perfect throw to home plate."

Word has been getting out on Garcia's arm, even at the big league level. He threw out 10 baserunners in just 62 games in right field at Class A Lakeland before the Tigers promoted him to Double-A Erie, where he eventually moved to center field. Even there, runners were cautious, though he still threw out four.

"I only make [a few]," Garcia said, "because everybody says, 'Stop, stop, stop.'"

The only runner to test Garcia in the Majors so far until Sunday was Dewayne Wise, and he did it trying to run from second to third on a sacrifice fly to left. Even then, the White Sox were seemingly aware it was a bad idea.

If the word on Garcia's arm wasn't out before, it is now. The rest of his game, the Tigers believe, is on the way.

"I've known him for three, four years," Cabrera said. "I see his progress. I see what he's able to do when he plays. It's like he can get better, and he wants to get better."

In a Tigers system not noted for depth in prospects, Garcia has never been highly ranked, topping out at eighth by entering the season. By season's end, he was up to fourth. His only All-Star selection was a Florida State League midseason honor.

He wasn't living in Cabrera's shadow then, but that of Futures Game MVP Nick Castellanos. In reality, they're two different types of players -- Castellanos a pure hitter with power, Garcia a five-tool athlete.

Garcia's getting his own name now.

"This kid has got all the tools," said catcher Gerald Laird, who took Garcia's throw Sunday and whirled for the tag. "He can run, he can throw and I'm excited he got the opportunity to make a big play."

Combine Garcia's stats between Lakeland and Erie, and he batted .299 with 17 doubles, eight triples, 14 home runs and 58 RBIs. He also stole 23 bases in 31 attempts.

After all the speculation over a Castellanos callup in September to spark the Tigers against left-handed pitchers, it was Garcia who got the call. Then he got the starts against lefties.

His next extra-base hit will be his first in the big leagues, but at 15-for-47 on singles, he more than held his own.

More than the ability, he's earned raves for his attitude.

"I'm impressed with his work ethic," Santiago said. "He's prepared."

The rule on the bench, Santiago said, is for hitters not in the game to hit the batting cages after five innings so they can be ready. Garcia, the main impact right-handed bat on the bench to throw against late-inning lefties, is there without fail.

Part of that comes from Cabrera, who has found himself in the role of mentor. When he made it to Detroit, even though he was already established as one of baseball's best young hitters, Cabrera took after Magglio Ordonez, whom he idolized growing up.

Cabrera is passing it forward. His most important bit of advice, he believes, is for Garcia to shake off the labels.

"Go out there and play his game," Cabrera said. "Don't try to impress anybody. Don't try to do something to [wow anybody]. Go out there, play his game, relax, try to take good at-bats, play good defense. That's it. Don't try to do too much."

He did plenty in his postseason debut, besides the throw. His first plate appearance Sunday saw him work out of an 0-2 count to draw a two-out walk off A's lefty Tommy Milone. His first ball in play required a stellar play from A's shortstop Stephen Drew to retire him.

When the Tigers take the field for Game 3 at Oakland Coliseum on Tuesday night, Garcia will be back out there. The A's are throwing lefty Brett Anderson on the mound, and it's Garcia's job to play against lefties.

When Cabrera was asked if Garcia gets nervous, he laughs.

"Nervous? I'm nervous, too," Cabrera said. "I think nervous is part of the game. He wants to do good. He's got that feeling like he wants to make the play, he wants to hit."

Cabrera has been there. When he got his big league shot with the 2003 Marlins, he was a 20-year-old phenom called up straight from Double-A at midseason. Garcia is 21.

Forget about comparing Garcia to Cabrera on that. If the Tigers can end Garcia's first big league stint with the World Series crown the 2003 Marlins got, they'll be tickled.

Detroit Tigers, Miguel Cabrera, Avisail Garcia