Davis, Cabrera took different routes to top of AL; Puig arrives with a bang

The Orioles’ Chris Davis and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera are the two most dangerous hitters in the American League, but each took a different route to the top of the AL statistics.

In 2003, at 20, Cabrera, who is now 30, was hitting four home runs in the postseason as the Marlins beat the Yankees in the World Series. Davis, 27, took a longer route to the bigs.

Davis was a fifth-round draft pick for the Rangers in 2005. He hit home runs on his way up the minor league ladder including 23 in 2008 at Double-A and Triple-A combined, punching his ticket to the big leagues. That year, he hit .297 with 17 home runs in 295 at-bats for the Rangers, and everything looked good.
He couldn’t follow up the next season. His swing developed holes. He struck out 150 times and wound up back in the minors.

In 2010, he hit .327 at Triple-A Oklahoma City, but when he returned to the Rangers, he couldn’t make the transition, hitting .192. The Rangers had plenty of first basemen. Davis fell behind Justin Smoak and Mitch Moreland on the depth chart.

The Rangers traded Smoak to Seattle for pitcher Cliff Lee, leaving the Rangers with Moreland and Davis. The Rangers decided that Moreland would be more of a grinder than Davis, so they kept Moreland and traded Davis, along with Tommy Hunter, to the Orioles for Koji Uehara.

Even though times were tough in Texas, Davis said he learned a lot, especially about routine from his former Rangers teammate, Michael Young. “A long time ago, Michael Young told me this is a game of routines and you really need to hammer a routine down,’’ Davis told The Associated Press. “It took me a while to understand what he meant. I’d come in here and put my socks on the same way, but I don’t think it’s something like that. It’s more about being consistent in your approach and daily work.’‘

Other thoughts:

* The Dodgers’ top outfield prospect, Yasiel Puig, 22, had two hits and an outfield assist from right field with his cannon arm versus San Diego in Dodger Stadium. Puig, wearing No. 66, has been compared to Bo Jackson, Oakland’s Yeonis Cespedes and the Angels’ Mike Trout, who hit .326 with 30 home runs last season. Let’s compare: Trout played 249 minor-league games when he was called up and struggled in 2011 before his electric 2012. (Puig has played 63 minor league games). Cespedes was strong in his first season with the A’s, but he’s five years older than Puig. And Jackson was 24 in his first full season in Kansas City when he hit .235 with 22 home runs in 1987.

* Hall of Famer George Brett, who is a connection to Kansas City’s run of six division titles, two American League pennants and a World Series title in the 1970s and 1980s, has become the Royals’ interim hitting coach. He was working in the team’s front office, and nobody has more passion for the Royals than Brett. He’ll bring enthusiasm, hard work and humor that will allow the players to relax. And he’ll bring back the techniques that were taught to him by the legendary hitting coach Charlie Lau. Brett credits Lau with helping him win three batting titles and collecting 3,154 hits.

* The most surprising statistic after the first two months: The Phillies’ Dominic Brown leads the National League with 17 home runs. The most surprising team statistic: Pitching-rich Tampa Bay ranks fifth in the AL in runs scored.

* Have the Angels hit rock bottom by losing a four-game series to the lowly Astros? The Astros have a $21 million payroll, $4 million less than what Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton makes in one season. There’s not much maneuverability on the roster. Meanwhile, the Astros are building a nucleus of young players with Matt Dominguez, Juan Castro, Chris Carter and Jordan Lyles, who was up at 20 and had to make a couple of trips back to the minors before he settled into the rotation.

* How many hits can St. Louis take? The Cardinals have the best record in baseball, despite a standing-room-only disabled list. They lost their leadoff batter and shortstop, Rafael Furcal. Dave Freese was in an early-season slump. Chris Carpenter, Jamie Garcia, Jake Westbrook and rookie John Gast are on the disabled list. In the bullpen, Jason Motte is out for the season and Mitchell Boggs has struggled so badly that he wound up in the minors. When he returned, he was booed. And how about catcher Yadier Molina for National League MVP. It’s early, but Molina is contending for a batting title and his leadership is the reason the young pitchers are doing well. And second baseman Matt Carpenter has been one of the best leadoff batters in the league, a surprise for the Cardinals.

* The Braves are heading for a break in the schedule. After finishing this week’s series against the Pirates, the Braves will play 26 of their next 32 games vs. teams with sub-.500 records. ... The A’s are one of the hottest teams in baseball, but they have been helped by going 9-0 versus the Astros and 5-1 against the Angels. The A’s are 11-19 versus teams with winning records.

* The Twins are rebuilding a rotation and are known for having pitch-to-contact pitchers, but this is getting ridiculous: Closer Glen Perkins leads the team with 33 strikeouts.

* Which is the real Yankees, the team that has a bunch of scrap heap players winning in the first two months, or the one that has cooled off in the last 10 days? Vernon Wells isn’t the same hitter. Neither is Travis Hafner. And, Lyle Overbay played right field Monday night, smacking of desperation. It’s ironic that last year’s right fielder, Nick Swisher, was in the opposite dugout, playing for Cleveland. The Yankees declined to sign Swisher in the offseason.