LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jose Cabrera has a Triple Crown, two American League Most Valuable Player Awards and four batting titles on his resume. With the 500-homer milestone in reach this year, and the 3,000-hit threshold not far beyond that, Cabrera is trying to regain his old form following the worst
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jose Cabrera has a Triple Crown, two American League Most Valuable Player Awards and four batting titles on his resume. With the 500-homer milestone in reach this year, and the 3,000-hit threshold not far beyond that, Cabrera is trying to regain his old form following the worst offensive season of his 15-year career.
Jeimer Candelario has 156 Major League plate appearances to his name, most of them as a September callup last year. He was a Cubs prospect a year ago and a 9-year-old when Cabrera made his Major League debut in 2003. Candelario is trying to prove he belongs not only in the big leagues, but also at third base for years to come in Detroit.
They're two talented hitters at opposite ends of their careers. Together, they're a microcosm of the challenge the Tigers face this season as they try to split the difference between an aging core that has been the heart of the team's success and a crop of young talent that is just beginning to arrive in Detroit, carrying the weight of a rebuilding effort.
They're also shaping up to be the Nos. 2 and 3 hitters, Candelario setting up Cabrera, in a lineup that could lean heavily on the top half of the order to produce runs.
Though the Tigers have made it clear they're going young, Cabrera entered camp with arguably the most intrigue of anyone on the roster. Part of the mystery involved his swing coming off an injury-plagued 2017 season, which included a groin injury that landed him on the disabled list early in the year and a chronically sore back that left him struggling to punish fastballs with the same authority he would deliver in his prime years.
With his 35th birthday coming up on April 18, Cabrera is getting older. Even if he stays healthy, the aging process will take its toll, likely in the home-run power that once produced back-to-back 44-homer seasons. Yet the way he has sprayed line drives around the field in Spring Training, and the way he has run the bases with a lighter frame, suggests a bounceback season, at least from the .249 average and .728 OPS he posted in 2017.
Just as important as Cabrera's physical state, though, is his mindset. His role is not simply as a catalyst for a lineup. More than any point in his career, the Tigers need him to be a leader by example, to embrace a mentoring role and set a tone for the clubhouse.
"In baseball, you never know what's going to happen," Cabrera said earlier this spring. "I'm not saying we're going to make the playoffs, but you have to try. You have to try, and you have to feel proud about trying to win."
Cabrera does some of that without saying a word.
"The greatest thing to do is to watch him take [batting practice]," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "If all of our hitters would take notice of that and watch how he patterns out and drives through the ball and stays through that, they would all be better hitters. He has a great plan, and that's why he's been such a great hitter for a long, long time."
Among those to be mentored is Candelario, the 24-year-old switch-hitter who came over from the Cubs at last year's Trade Deadline and took over at third base. He's by far the youngest and greenest member of Detroit's projected Opening Day lineup, yet the way he has hit this spring has all but earned him the second spot in the order.
"I love him," Gardenhire said. "I think he's fantastic. I love his actions at third base. I like his swing. I like his demeanor. They told me I would really like this guy, and they were right."
Candelario already has picked up some veteran traits from players like Cabrera. He's a hard person to find in the clubhouse before batting practice, often taking his cuts in the cage. He tends to have a smile on his face, enjoying the game.
Candelario is already developing ahead of schedule. The quicker he can handle the learning curve, the better the Tigers could be.
"I enjoy watching him play," Gardenhire said. "I enjoy watching him around the clubhouse. Out there on the work fields, he's always doing his job very professionally, and very quiet about it. I like him a lot. I think he's going to be a good one, a really good one."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.