I’d consider this the first bit of surprising news coming out of camp, but the Tigers are impressed with Miguel Cabrera defensively at third has had me a little nervous since the trade was made. A rotation with three southpaws, two of which are extreme ground balls pitchers, means that third base becomes very important. Whether or not this is spring-training optimism talking remains to be seen (Jose Macias was dubbed a gold glove centerfielder by Randy Smith one spring).
Defensive metrics have been quite unified when assessing Cabrera’s defense. It’s not that just that he rates poorly, it’s that he rates as one of the worst at this position.
His struggles had been largely blamed on his weight gain, which became most problematic last year. It’s been widely reported he has arrived to camp in great shape having lost that extra weight. But he rated at -14 runs per 150 games using UZR in 2006 as well. In 2005 when he was primarily a left fielder, he rated as -21 runs according to UZR. So his defensive struggles probably weren’t only the result of his weight.
Moving beyond the weight though the Tigers have been very impressed with his soft hands and are now thinking his defense could be a plus.
“We haven’t worked anyone hard yet as far as movement,” said manager Jim Leyland, “but I can see he has very good hands, soft hands. (Infield coach Rafael Belliard) has looked at tape after tape of him and has said to me that he has a chance to be real good.”Tigers love Cabrera’s glove
It raises an interesting question as to what extent the Tigers can “coach him up.” He apparently as the hands, and his arm strength has long been well regarded rating a 70 in the fans scouting report. Are the tools there to turn him into a defensive force? Can Rafael Belliard help him with positioning and throwing accuracy? I’m still skeptical, but also encouraged.