The Trenton Thunder’s 2014 season had just concluded last September and, with his teammates, first baseman Greg Bird was packing up his gear.
“I’m just taking a few things out to the car,” he said. “I’ll be right back in and we can talk.”
Bird, recently named the Yankees’ No. 4 prospect by Baseball America, talked about the progress he thought he made since the Yankees drafted him in the sixth round of the 2011 selections. After being sidelined early by a back injury, Bird rebounded, in stints at both Class-A Tampa and the Double-A Thunder, to hit .271 (100-for-369) with 14 homers, 43 RBIs, 30 doubles and an OPS of .848.
“By no means am I done yet,” he said. “It’s an honor that I was selected to play in the Arizona Fall League. “I can’t wait to get out there and see how I do against some of the best prospects.”
With the 2014 AFL season concluding Saturday with the AFL Championship Game, one Bird’s Scottsdale Scorpions dd not qualify for, he ended his season in the Southwest with the Joe Black MVP trophy, signifying the best of the best. He also captured the MVP award of the AFL’s Fall Stars Game a few weeks ago.
“My goal going to Arizona is simply to make myself better,” Bird said back in Trenton.
In all seriousness, the native of Aurora, Colo., who turned 22 November 9, couldn’t have achieved his goal in better fashion.
He led the circuit in home runs (6) and runs (21), while finishing second in hits (31), RBIs (21) and total bases (55), third in extra-base hits (12) and slugging (.556) and sixth in batting (31-for-99 and.313). He opened the season with a 16-game hitting streak. He also had an OPS of .947.
Bird has the best plate discipline and batting eye of any player in the Yankees system. Naturally he is looking to hit for power from the left side, but he also takes what the pitcher gives him and is quite adept at hitting behind the runner when called upon.
Defensively, his work at first base is solid and is improving steadily. He makes the plays to his right and has no problem digging balls out of the dirt while staying on the bag. Certainly not bad for a sixth-round pick who was taken as a catcher.
It was his level of play in 2014 that prompted the Yankees to trade power-hitting Pete O’Brien to Arizona for the versatile Martin Prado last July.
“Greg really showed an advanced approach at the plate,” said Trenton manager Tony Franklin. “It’s great to see a young player have that. Greg has a lot of skills that will certainly play in the major leagues.”
Mark Teixeira is signed through 2016, but health is becoming a question with him. Bird will likely start 2015 at Trenton and earn a quick promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre if all goes well. Bird ought to arrive in The Bronx to start 2016.
“That’s what I’m aiming for,” sad Bird. “I think it’s a realistic timetable.”
Heading into the 2014 season, even into the Arizona Fall League, Bird was a bit overlooked as compared to his fellow Yankees prospect and Scottsdale running-mate Aaron Judge. He will be mentioned in the same conversations from here on.