Don't panic, Tigers fans. Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand updated the media on Miguel Cabrera's rehab progress yesterday, telling Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press that Cabrera is not expected to be ready for spring training. Cabrera began wearing a walking boot before Christmas, but will not be re-evaluated by doctors until mid-February. Rand stopped short of saying whether Cabrera will be in the lineup on Opening Day.
Cabrera has been sidelined since the end of the season, when he had surgery to remove bone spurs and repair a stress fracture in his navicular bone. I provided a quick explanation of the navicular bone and its importance in movement back in October.
The navicular bone is situated on the inside of the foot, just below the ankle. It is one of the bones that comprises the "arch" of the foot, and accepts a great deal of pressure whenever a person stands, walks, or puts weight through that foot. A healthy foot and ankle is able to dissipate the pressure with proper muscle activation, allowing the person to move while maintaining a proper foot arch.
Our earlier speculation on Cabrera's progress -- based entirely on a picture he tweeted, remember -- seems to be right on point. Cabrera is already putting weight through his surgically repaired right foot, and does not seem to have hit any setbacks in his rehab process yet. Based on the amount of training he has been doing (or appears to be doing) and the timing of the appointment, I would imagine that Cabrera's mid-February re-evaluation will determine whether he is ready to begin baseball activities.
This doesn't mean that Cabrera will be turned loose out of the gate. He will start slow, performing some light drills and tee work. As he continues to train, he will eventually progress to heavier field work, running, and taking full swings against live pitching. There are a lot of opportunities for setbacks along the way, but at his current pace, Cabrera could still be ready to play on Opening Day.
While the news on Cabrera was not as optimistic as we had hoped, Rand provided positive updates on Bruce Rondon and Jose Iglesias. Less than 10 months removed from Tommy John surgery, Rondon is already playing long-toss. The Tigers are optimistic that he will be able to get five or six bullpen sessions in before pitchers and catchers report to Lakeland in 38 days. He may not be throwing at max effort yet, but this is great news. If Rondon can complete the requisite number of bullpen sessions before pitchers and catchers even report to Lakeland, he should be a safe bet to make the Opening Day roster.
Iglesias is even further along, already taking swings and fielding ground balls. He has been running sprints at 75-to-80 percent speed. One thing to watch for will be whether Iglesias is taking part in agility drills; change-of-direction movements are one of the last components of a return-to-sport rehab process, as they are often more strenuous than straight-line sprinting. Given his current condition (and the team's willingness to trade Eugenio Suarez in December), Iglesias should be fully ready to go when players report to Lakeland in February.