Before Gary Sanchez released the Kraken and Aaron Judge forced fans to rise, there was another farmhand in the New York Yankees organization considered superior at the plate.
“Greg Bird’s by far the best hitter (among prospects) in the organization,” Brian Cashman boasted not too long ago.
It was March 2015, roughly six months before Bird would make his major-league debut. Reggie Jackson had just made some wild claim that Jose Pirela — not Sanchez, Judge or Bird — was the top young hitter the Yankees had. Cashman immediately shot the theory down.
Bird soon made his general manager look smart. After being called up in August, he hit .261/.343/.529 with 11 home runs and 31 RBIs in 157 at-bats. It wasn’t the explosive August Sanchez had last year or the monstrous first half Judge had this season, but Bird impressed enough to make himself the clear successor to Mark Teixeira at first base.
He has totaled 66 major league at-bats since.
Bird has been injured much of the last two seasons. He missed all of 2016 with a torn labrum, but arrived at spring training this year ready to back up Cashman’s words once again. He smashed eight homers to go along with 15 RBIs and a .451/.556/1.098 slash line in 23 games. He walked more than he struck out and totaled 56 bases. One never wants to get caught up in spring training stats, but Bird looked spectacular.
Then, right at the end of spring training, he fouled a ball off his ankle. Months later, he would be diagnosed with an injured os trigonum, but not before he tried to play through the pain and struggling mightily.
Determining the exact injury was a frustrating ordeal for Bird, one that took multiple tests and specialists. For a while, it looked like there was no hope of him playing again this season, but fortunately for the Yankees and Bird’s career, he returned on Aug. 26 after a speedy rehab.
Now that he’s back, what exactly can the Yankees expect from him?
In three games, Bird is 2-for-6 with two RBIs, two walks and two strikeouts. He has yet to record an extra-base hit, but it is important to remember that this is a player still working to find his groove. He hasn’t played healthy big league ball since 2015 — and even then he was dealing with the aforementioned shoulder issue.
Once Bird gets readjusted, however, he could provide a massive boost to the Yankees as they enter the final month of the season.
They don’t need him to be the organization’s best slugger, but rather for him to just stick to his usual approach. Bird earned that compliment from Cashman because he offers not only contact and power, but plate discipline as well. The Yankees could use some of that, especially from the left side of the plate.
They’re expecting it.
“Really good, very patient. Really good eye, which is what we’re used to seeing from Greg,” Joe Girardi said when asked about Bird’s first at-bats back. “I think he can have a big impact.”
Bird doesn’t need to hit X number of home runs or drive in a certain amount of runners this September. More than anything, he just needs to get on base. Whether that be by way of hits or walks, it doesn’t matter. He has shown a knack for the latter — the former will come as he gets readjusted.
Once he’s on, though, there are now tons of other young, talented hitters on this team just waiting to drive him in. The Yankees don’t need Bird to be their best.
Rather, he just needs to be himself at the plate.
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