NEW YORK -- Everth Cabrera finished the 2012 season, brushed himself off, took some time to recharge, went to his native country of Nicaragua and promised those closest to him that he'd be an All-Star next year. He told a couple of his closest friends, he told his wife, he told his mom, and they all smiled and patted him on the back.
More so, it was a promise to himself.
"I had that mentality," Cabrera said in Spanish. "But I also knew the responsibility that came with it, and the work I had to do in order to get to the All-Star Game."
For that to happen, Cabrera had to focus more on his defense and he had to find some way to hit left-handed pitching. So he went to work, and now he's seeing it pay off. Cabrera sports a .984 fielding percentage -- second to only the Cardinals' Pete Kozma among National League shortstops -- and is batting an astonishing .370 against lefties, on his way to a .291 batting average, a .373 on-base percentage and an NL-leading 34 steals in 79 first-half games.
Sure enough, there he was Monday afternoon -- sitting at a podium in Citi Field and talking about being the Padres' representative at the All-Star Game.
"It's special," Cabrera said. "I feel so honored."
It takes a certain amount of confidence, a swagger, to make a vow like that eight months in advance.
Cabrera, 26, doesn't necessarily lack it.
"I've acquired that over time, through experience in this game during my short career," Cabrera said. "You have to be a little bold in this game. You have to play baseball aggressively and without fear. Sometimes you can have all the talent in the world, but if you don't have the confidence, that talent doesn't come out."
Cabrera didn't have all the talent in the world. He's generously listed at 5-foot-10, and four years into his pro career, the Rockies essentially gave up on him, subjecting him to the Rule 5 Draft and leaving him to be picked up by the Padres in December 2008.
"When they picked me up in that Rule 5 pick in 2008," Cabrera said, "I really felt in my heart that at any point I could make that jump to the Major Leagues and make an impact here."
He showed flashes of the dynamic player he could be those first four years, making a handful of head-turning defensive plays and stealing bases and occasionally getting hot. But he still hadn't put it together. He made lazy errors, and he was perennially woeful against southpaws, batting .195 against them in 2012 to bring his average down to .246 for the season.
At one point, he almost gave up switch-hitting altogether.
"I started batting left-handed a little late, but I became a better hitter from the left side, against right-handed pitching," Cabrera said. "I slipped against left-handed pitching -- that happens -- but now I understand the type of game that I have, which is to put the ball in play, try to slap the ball the other way and to always try to pick up something that can help me."
His focus defensively, the type that's required out of a premier shortstop, has also been there.
"When I focus a lot on every play that I have to make -- the pitch location, if there's going to be a hit-and-run, if they're going to bunt, things like that -- it helps me forget about the pressure that you get when it's going bad at the plate," Cabrera said, his Padres 42-54 and 8 1/2 games out of first place heading into the All-Star break. "It's helped me separate the defense from the offense. And sometimes I focus more on the defense than the hitting and it comes more naturally, more consistently, at the plate."
Padres manager Bud Black recently called Cabrera "arguably the team's MVP," but he was being cautious. Cabrera hasn't left much up for debate. His 2.8 wins above replacement score, per FanGraphs.com, is tops on the Padres and is third at his position in the NL.
Despite a strained left hamstring that kept him out 17 games and at one point may have threatened his chances of being selected to the Midsummer Classic, he's the first Padres position player to make the All-Star team since Adrian Gonzalez in 2010 and the first shortstop since Tony Fernandez in 1992.
Just as he promised.
"I always had the mentality of not being simply being a Major League player," Cabrera said, "but of being a good player in the Major Leagues."
The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again have fans participating in the official voting for the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com via the 2013 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote, and their voice will represent 20 percent of the official vote determining the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.
The 2013 All-Star Game will be played at Citi Field on Tuesday. Come to MLB.com for extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.
The 84th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM also will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez.