The American League Most Valuable Player award will be announced tonight at 6 p.m. on MLB Network, and one person in the Orioles organization knows two of the finalists -- Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera and Orioles first baseman Chris Davis -- very well.
Few coaches have worked with both sluggers as closely as Orioles hitting coach Jim Presley, who was Cabrera’s hitting coach with the Florida Marlins in 2006 and 2007 before he was dealt to the Tigers. Presley, who completed his third season as Orioles hitting coach in 2013, has also worked with Davis and has played an instrumental role in Davis blossoming into one of the game's top power hitters this season.
In 2006, Cabrera hit .339 and fell just five points short of winning the National League batting title. This season, he won his third straight AL batting crown. Cabrera had credited Presley for being one of the best hitting coaches he’s had.
But this season, Davis single-handedly prevented Cabrera from winning back-to-back Triple Crowns by leading the major leagues in home runs (53) and RBIs (138). Presley helped Davis do some valuable soul-searching that was key in untapping Davis' potential.
Presley has helped both players, and here he compares two of his most successful pupils.
Comparing Davis and Cabrera:
“I know Chris has come a long way in terms of what he’s accomplished. I know he struggled in Texas quite a bit and was kind of finding his way through it, but this past year, that was as good an offensive year as I’ve seen anybody have. I’ve never seen anybody put up those kind of numbers and consistently do it like Chris. Now Miguel Cabrera is one of the best hitters I’ve ever seen, there’s no doubt about it. He just does it year in and year out. I saw him lose the batting title by a point or two one day just playing the last day. I’ve seen him put up big offensive numbers. They both deserve it, there’s no doubt about it. It’s just how do you feel? Our guy pretty much carried us there for about two months and Miggy did the same thing. Those guys got to where they needed to be. They just didn’t get over the hump and what Miguel did last year was unbelievable, winning the Triple Crown. They both have arguments of who should win it. I hope our guy does because I know he deserves it. ... They’re two different kinds of players. Chris is young, he finally got his feet on the ground. He had a big year, he had a good year last year, too. Miguel Cabrera just does it year in and year out.”
On what led to Davis’ 2013 season:
"I think last year he kind of got his feet wet and he played all over the place. He got some at-bats, he got some experience. I know he’ll tell me that when he was in Texas, he was always afraid that if he didn’t get a base hit that night when he played that he was going to be sitting the next two or three days. And I think that has a lot to do with it, that you know you’re going to be in there every day if you take an 0-for-4. I think he felt comfortable. I think he knew that he could play at this level and play well and he started getting those at-bats and he just kind of took off those first couple of months and you could see the confidence growing. I think just playing every day and knowing you’re going to play every day has a lot to do with it. I know when I played, it was the same way. When you know you’re going to be in there every day, there’s no pressure. You just go out there and play the game and you can grind it out through the good times and the bad times, and I think that's what he did this year.
On coaching Cabrera with the Marlins:
“To me, I saw [Albert] Pujols, I saw all those good hitters. Back four, five years ago, he was still the best right-handed hitter I’ve ever seen. He was putting up numbers, but he was just kind of forgotten in Florida. Nobody really knew about him except people who played against him every day, and then he gets into a little bit bigger limelight with Detroit and he goes to the playoffs and all of a sudden everybody knows about Miguel Cabrera. To me, he was the best right-handed hitter in the National League four or five years ago. And to me, he still is the best hitter in the American League. But as far as numbers and everything like that, Chris Davis put up as good a numbers as anybody. If Chris doesn’t have that big year, Cabrera does it again [and wins the Triple Crown].”