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Cabrera celebrates 30th among all-time greats

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SEATTLE -- Nobody apparently told Miguel Cabrera about the stresses of the big three-oh.

It came up Tuesday night after a seemingly effortless swing at an Aaron Harang fastball well off the plate sent a home run over the center-field fence. He officially reached 30 on Thursday. The question now is where he goes from here.

Statistically, he's on pace for some chances at history if he keeps up anything close to what he has done already. Torii Hunter, though, thinks he could be even better.

"Once he hits 30, you see where he'll get smarter," Hunter said earlier this week. "How can a guy like that, who won a Triple Crown, get smarter? That's scary. That's a scary visual."

Hunter has some experience with this. He turned 30 in the middle of an injury-shortened 2005 season. The next year, he hit a career-high 31 homers, starting him on a stretch of six consecutive 20-homer seasons that finally ended last year when he hit 16. Hunter also strung together five straight seasons with an OPS of more than .800.

Hunter has hit 20 points better in batting average and slugging percentage, and 40 points better in OPS, in his 30s than in his 20s.

"I think some of the best years of my career came when I hit 30," Hunter said. "I think I got smarter as a hitter. Before that, I was just straight talent. I didn't know what was going on. I just hit and used my athletic ability. I didn't have to stretch. But now I'm a lot smarter with my body, with my game, with my studies of the game. I'm actually a smarter player now."

Hunter, though, didn't have nearly the resume Cabrera put up in his 20s. If Cabrera can follow a similar trajectory, the potential career numbers are staggering.

According to research from STATS, just eight Major League players in the modern era (since 1920) posted more hits than Cabrera before their 30th birthday. Cabrera's 1,822 hits ranked just three behind Alex Rodriguez and 15 behind Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline. Everybody from Kaline on up is in the Hall of Fame.

Cabrera's 323 home runs by age 30 placed him just outside the top 10. Juan Gonzalez ranked 10th with 340. Albert Pujols, by comparison, hit 366 home runs before he turned 30, and that still ranked outside the top five.

Where Cabrera ranks strongest is in doubles. Only Joe Medwick (416) hit more doubles by age 30 among modern players than Cabrera, who had 388 -- one ahead of Pujols.

Cabrera's 1,140 RBIs ranked sixth, 12 behind Ken Griffey Jr. for the top five but 19 ahead of Hank Aaron.

According to fangraphs.com, which can measure players through their age 30 season rather than their specific birthdays, Cabrera's .318 average ranked him 20th among players since World War II through their age-30 season.

Cabrera's consistency at the plate over the last four years is a big reason to believe he could stay on that track. The question, especially with his body frame, could be durability, but Cabrera hasn't played fewer than 150 games in a season since his rookie year. His only year since then with fewer than 157 games was 2010, when his season ended a week early with an ankle injury.

With the designated hitter slot extending careers, Cabrera has the potential for historic numbers. At some point, his quick bat will slow down, but it might not be for a long, long time. By then, if Hunter's suggestion is right, his instincts could make up for it.

At that point, the question could become whether he has enough left in his 40s to join the all-time greats.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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