DETROIT -- When Miguel Cabrera was 16 years old, you could already see glimpses of the player he is today.
Tigers assistant general manager Al Avila was working for the Florida Marlins back then and he distinctly remembers the first time he saw Cabrera in his native Venezuela.
"It was around late August, early September, he was 16 years old," Avila said. "I saw him work out at a ball field right behind his house. It was just a workout. Then the following day he played a game. He was playing with 15, 16-year-olds."
Avila said at the time, the Marlins were searching for a someone who could one day become a real impact player, a difference-maker.
Two of the Marlins scouts, Louis Eljaua and Miguel Garcia, currently the director of Latin American operations for the Tigers, had discovered Cabrera and told Avila to come see him.
"He was a big, strong kid, even at an early age, with a very good, solid hitting approach, had really good instincts for the game," Avila said. "We started a relationship with his family and we basically stayed in touch with the family throughout the whole year, going into the following summer when he was eligible to sign. It was kind of a year-long courtship of Miguel and his family that led up to the signing."
Avila said that the young Cabrera was unusual in that he already had a lot of experience playing baseball throughout his childhood.
"He played in a league in Venezuela, he played a lot of international competitions, so he played at a pretty good level for his age, he played in international competitions, he had won a lot of trophies because he was a good player," Avila said.
"He was a guy, much like the kids that grow up here in the United States that play Little League, that play travel teams, they go on into the showcases, Miguel had a lot of that, unlike the majority of the Latin American players that really don't have that kind of playing experience and are really more tryout-type of guys and then you've got to teach them everything.
"Miguel came and he had good instincts for the game and he knew how to play the game pretty well. He had a very good, sound hitting approach and swing, much like the same swing he's got today, truth be told. He's just grown into a man now. So even back then, he was a guy that was pretty advanced."
Cabrera was so advanced that the Marlins made a huge investment in him when they signed him.
"We ended up giving him the largest signing bonus in the history of the game for an international free-agent player, amateur free-agent player," Avila said. "When you do that, you're expecting a high return. We felt that we were signing a guy that had the potential to be a future All-Star."
Avila said the Marlins took the unusual step of bringing Cabrera to Miami to have him participate in a workout with the big league club at Pro Player Stadium after he signed.
"He did everything -- infield, took batting practice and basically worked out with the major league club," Avila said. "And we did that just because we wanted to show everybody the kind of talent that we thought we had and justifying the kind of money that we invested in him, that he could actually go out with major leaguers and look the part and he did that."
Avila said even though Cabrera was much younger than the Marlins players, he did not look out of place.
"He fit right in," Avila said. "He hit balls against the fence, he hit balls over the fence, even at that time he had an above-average arm. He had good power, he had a good swing, he was a big, strong kid. At the early age of 16, he showed a lot."
While Avila, Eljaua and Garcia saw a possible All-Star, they couldn't have predicted Cabrera would go on to win back-to-back batting titles, a Triple Crown and an MVP Award.
Cabrera's career 162-game averages are .321 with 35 home runs and 123 RBIs, averages that would be a career season for most players.
"Right now his career is going along the way of a potential future Hall of Famer," Avila said. "That I can't tell you we saw, no. But we did feel that he had the potential to be a perennial All-Star at that point, even at that age."