It’s fun to watch Greg Bird contribute to the Yankees down the stretch, it is also not surprising.
Bird, the native of Aurora, Colo., who turns 24 on Nov. 22, is hitting .250 (34-for-136) with 10 homers and 29 RBIs in 39 games with the Yankees. He is doing the same things he did during his years in the Yankees system, four of the blasts have been game-winners.
He has also overcome the nonsense dealt his way by so-called “experts,” who talked about how the Yankees gave him too much money as a fifth-round pick in 2011. They stated his defense at first base was shabby and expressed the view he lacked power.
This, of course, came from many who never saw him play, or watched him live a few times at most. It is doubtful most ever talked to him. Those pundits were wrong on most counts and short-sighted on others. Bird is proving such in every start.
On the other hand, this is not to say the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Bird, who batted .277 (88-for-318 between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre), with 12 homers and 52 RBIs in 83 games, is a finished product. He has areas to work on, and readily admits it.
“I know I have to, and want, to do better,” said Bird. “The team is counting on me for certain contributions and I have to provide them.”
“You can always improve in this game. You can always get better.”
Bird is a player, no matter what level he was assigned to, who focuses on how his contributions help the rest of his team. In the minors, that made him a clubhouse leader. With the Yankees, it makes him a player the veterans and leaders in the room are looking to welcome and respect.
His Yankees teammates know Bird has paid his dues and has had to battle to get there,
“Greg is a true professional, a player who is a leader, and who is always looking to better his overall game,” said his 2015 Trenton Thunder manager, Al Pedrique. “It’s enjoyable to see him getting a shot.
“I hope we helped a bit in his development.”
Bird scuffled some to start 2015, strengthening a gimpy back before reporting to Trenton. He also missed about a month with a shoulder strain, but made sure he was healthy when the right opportunity knocked.
He would rather be in the dugout than the Yankees Complex in Tampa.
“You never want to be there after spring training,” he’s said with a grin. “It gets boring. They are getting you better with your program, but you can’t wait to be playing again.
“You kind of form a bond with the other players who are there (such as pitcher Ian Clarkin, who will go to the 2015 Arizona Fall League and likely start at Trenton in 2016). You just want to get healthy and back in the game.”
Bird hit ,258 (47-for-182) with six home runs and 29 RBIs for Trenton in 49 games before a 34-game stint with the RailRiders in which he batted .301 (41-for-136) with six more home runs and 23 RBIs. It was also not surprising he hit better at Triple-A than Double-A.
“It took me awhile to get my timing back with Trenton after sitting out with the shoulder,” Bird said. “When you don’t really swing a bat in a game for a month, it takes time to get back to where you want to be. It kept getting better.”
Bird’s strength is his outstanding plate discipline. He has an excellent batting eye and has already made adjustments to adjustments American League pitchers have made in throwing to him. His defense at first base can certainly be rated as solid.
The Yankees have developed an excellent position player – Bird, who was drafted as a catcher, is strictly a first baseman – ready to be a regular in 2017. In 2016, he’ll likely back up Mark Teixeira. He really does not need more time in the minors, but will go where he is assigned.
Once again, his success is not a surprise to those who have seen him play and know him well.