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Yankees Prospect Greg Bird: Time to buy into the hype?

Greg Bird has been one of the fastest rising and most exciting Yankees prospect. How does he compare to Single-A first basemen historically? Should we temper our expectations, or is it time to buy Greg Bird stock (or at least his rookie cards)?

Don't doubt our love, Greg. Bird is the word her at PSA.
Don't doubt our love, Greg. Bird is the word her at PSA.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Bird has been a favorite of mine since he was drafted in 2011. This season, he has become a favorite of PSA (soon, right?) staff and community members alike. PSA member Conor in China asked in Tanya's piece on Bird if we could do a comparison of Bird to what current major league first basemen did in Single-A. However, many first basemen in the majors were not first basemen in the minors, and those that were tend to have played A-Ball at an older age than Bird, who is in his age-20 season. So, instead, I decided to look at how Bird has done compared to other first basemen age-20 or younger in Single-A.

Before I get to that, I want to share what I recently wrote about Bird in my mid-season top Yankees prospects list:

Greg Bird is a first baseman drafted in the fifth round in 2011 by the Yankees out of high school in Aurora, CO. Bird was known for his big-time power and polished bat coming into the draft, and it took $1.1 million to sign him away from the University of Arkansas, the highest bonus given out by the Yankees in 2011. He was a catcher in high school, but the Yankees immediately moved him to first base. He only got 13 PA in 2011, and split 2012 between the GCL Yankees and Staten Island. Over a 109 PA in 2012, he had a .337/.450/.494 line, with a 180 wRC+, striking out in 21.1% of his plate appearances, while walking in 15.6% of them.

He has built on this in 2013, with a .289/.416/.503 line in Charleston over 474 PA, with a 17.5 BB%, a 23.8 K%, and a 144 wRC+. The home runs have not showed up in Charleston, but he has hit 20 doubles. Since 2011, he has a .287/.408/.452 line in his first 392 professional PA, with 7 HR, 26 2B, 64 BB, 93 K, and a 162 wRC+. He has a legit, possibly even elite, bat, which is good since he is a first baseman. In fact, he may be the best first base prospect in baseball right now, especially looking at performance. And he has only gotten better as the season as gone on. He put up a .281/.405/.455 line in 224 pre-ASG plate appearances, and a .288/.430/.569 in the 160 plate appearances since.

In the minor leagues this year, with a minimum of 400 plate appearances, he is 7th in wRC+, with his 62% above league-average production. The six players ahead of him are all at least 25 years old, and three of them are in the Mexican League. Of the five first basemen with 400 plate appearances age 20 or younger, he is first in wRC+, the next closest being Dan Vogelbach at 126 wRC+, 36% lower than Bird. He looks like he could be the eventual replacement for Mark Teixeira in a few years - he could join the club some time in 2016. He is the best first base prospect the Yankees have had since Nick Johnson, and should be a top 100 prospect for them by the end of the year.

Back to your regularly scheduled program. I looked at first basemen with at least 300 PA in Single-A between 2006 and 2009 who had at least a 130 wRC+. For comparison, Bird currently has a 167 wRC+, meaning his offensive production is 67% better than league-average, and fifth-best among all Single-A players in 2013. Only three first basemen actually fit this criteria (Bird shown for comparison):

Name Team Year Age PA BB% K% OPS BABIP wRC+ Debut fWAR
Kyle Blanks Padres (A) 2006 19 359 10.0% 22.0% 0.836 0.359 141 2009 2.7
Chris Carter White Sox (A) 2007 20 537 12.5% 20.5% 0.894 0.327 138 2010 -0.4
Freddie Freeman Braves (A) 2008 18 540 8.5% 15.6% 0.899 0.352 150 2010 5.2
Gregory Bird Yankees (A) 2013 20 499 18.2% 23.0% 0.930 0.356 167

The best of the three is by far Freddie Freeman. Freeman made it to the big leagues in two years, debuting in his age-20 season.He has put up an .808 OPS, 118 OPS+, 122 wRC+, 7.4 rWAR, 5.2 fWAR, and has averaged 22 HR and 94 RBI per 162 games. If Bird came up in 2015 and put up those types of numbers in his first 400+ games, Yankees fans would be ecstatic.

Blanks and Carter have been less successful, but it is still early in their careers. Both debuted three years after putting up those numbers in Single-A. Carter struggled in his first two partial seasons, broke out in 2012, and has still been above-average offensively in 2013. Over his career, he has a .744 OPS, 104 OPS+, 105 wRC+, -0.3 rWAR, -0.4 fWAR, and has averaged 31 HR and 80 RBI per 162 games. If you just look at the past two seasons, he has been even better: 0.793 OPS, 118 OPS+, 119 wRC+, 1.2 rWAR, 1.1 fWAR, 36 HR and 92 RBI per 162 games.

Blanks has had many problems staying healthy and getting regular playing time since his debut in 2010. He has played a career-high 67 games and 242 PA in 2013, but is currently on the DL with an Achilles issue. Over his career, he has a .739 OPS, 107 OPS+, 108 wRC+, 3.9 rWAR, 2.7 fWAR, and averaged 21 HR and 74 RBI per 162 games. Again, Yankees fans would be pretty happy with a Carter or Blanks type of production from a cheap, homegrown player.

What I find interesting is that while there were only three examples that matched the criteria set forth, all three have made it to the major leagues, and all look like they should be able to stick for a while. Also interesting is that none of the three were really that close to Greg Bird's 167 wRC+. So I decided to expand the search, looking at any players in Single-A ball from 2006 to 2009 with at least 300 PA and in their age-20 season or younger, minimum 140 wRC+. Twenty-one players matched these criteria (Bird included for comparison):

Name Team Year Age PA BB% K% OPS BABIP wRC+ Debut fWAR
Colby Rasmus Cardinals (A) 2006 19 341 8.5% 16.1% 0.884 0.346 151 2009 12.2
Travis Denker Dodgers (A) 2006 20 314 20.4% 11.5% 0.868 0.270 148 2008 0.2
Aaron Cunningham White Sox (A) 2006 20 402 8.5% 17.9% 0.882 0.356 146 2008 -0.1
Jay Bruce Reds (A) 2006 19 498 8.8% 21.3% 0.871 0.345 145 2008 14.7
Cameron Maybin Tigers (A) 2006 19 445 11.2% 26.1% 0.844 0.408 142 2007 7.8
Kyle Blanks Padres (A) 2006 19 359 10.0% 22.0% 0.836 0.359 141 2009 2.7
Ryan Royster Devil Rays (A) 2007 20 518 6.9% 23.4% 0.982 0.387 158

Travis Snider Blue Jays (A) 2007 19 517 9.5% 25.0% 0.902 0.397 151 2008 1.0
Taylor Green Brewers (A) 2007 20 456 11.2% 14.3% 0.921 0.361 148 2011 -0.1
Nick Weglarz Indians (A) 2007 19 527 15.6% 24.1% 0.902 0.341 143

Johnny Whittleman Rangers (A) 2007 20 406 15.5% 22.4% 0.858 0.325 141

Giancarlo Stanton Marlins (A) 2008 18 540 10.7% 28.3% 0.993 0.351 169 2010 12.5
Ben Revere Twins (A) 2008 20 374 7.2% 8.3% 0.930 0.416 168 2010 5.4
Freddie Freeman Braves (A) 2008 18 540 8.5% 15.6% 0.899 0.352 150 2010 5.2
Jesus Montero Yankees (A) 2008 18 569 6.5% 14.6% 0.868 0.362 143 2011 -0.3
Jason Heyward Braves (A) 2008 18 508 9.6% 14.6% 0.871 0.361 143 2010 16.0
Caleb Gindl Brewers (A) 2008 19 578 10.9% 24.9% 0.862 0.405 143 2013 0.3
Jaff Decker Padres (A) 2009 19 455 18.7% 20.2% 0.956 0.360 169 2013 0.0
Derek Norris Nationals (A) 2009 20 540 16.7% 21.5% 0.926 0.337 162 2012 1.8
Alexi Amarista Angels (A) 2009 20 557 9.0% 11.0% 0.857 0.356 142 2011 -0.2
Jake Smolinski Marlins (A) 2009 20 322 11.8% 14.0% 0.827 0.317 140

Gregory Bird Yankees (A) 2013 20 499 18.2% 23.0% 0.930 0.356 167

I won't go over all of this information, feel free to peruse yourself and ask any questions you have in the comments section. However, you will notice out of the 21 players who met this criteria, 17 have debuted in the big leagues so far, an astounding 81% success rate, when prospects tend to be much less of a guarantee than that as a whole. And if you look at those with at least a 145 wRC+, that number jumps to over 92%. They made their debut within 2.5 years on average (two years as a median), and have averaged 4.7 fWAR (1.8 fWAR median) in their careers so far. If you take out the 2009 players, half of which have made their debut this year, the numbers go up to an average of 5.5 fWAR, and a median of 4.0 fWAR.

Only three of these 21 players actually had a higher wRC+ than Bird: Giancarlo Stanton (169 wRC+), Jaff Decker (169 wRC+), and Ben Revere (168 wRC+). Revere, as good as he is, isn't a good comparison, given his utter lack of power. Stanton's name on this list should make all Yankees fans drool, but it would be unrealistic to expect Bird to match Stanton's raw power. Stanton was already in the majors at age-20, while Bird is still in Single-A.

Decker was a top prospect who had similar defensive limitations as Bird, and is probably the most similar player to Bird from this list: 18.7 vs. 18.2 BB%, 20.2 vs. 23.0 K%, .215 vs. .224 ISO, .360 vs. .356 BABIP, 169 vs. 167 wRC+. This may be concerning to some as Decker just made his debut this year due to some injury issues and trouble adjusting to the higher levels of the minor leagues. However, he is still just 23 years old, and has put up a 134 wRC+ in his minor league career. Just looking at his minor league production after his 2009 A-ball season, he put up a 118 wRC+, still a very good number. However, his prospect status took a hit last year when plantar fasciitis limited him to 223 PA and a 96 wRC+ in Double-A. He bounced back this year in Triple-A, with a 125 wRC+ in 393 PA.

So, what are we to think about Greg Bird, Yankees über-prospect? Over 92% of players who have performed at a similar level as Bird in Single-A have made it to the major leagues. We should expect that he makes it to the Show in the next 2.5 years. If we are just comparing him to the small sample of three first basemen who were similar to him, we could expect him to average 25 HR and 86 RBI per 162 games in the big leagues over his first 200+ games and 700+ plate appearances. I think it safe to say that Greg Bird will make the major leagues, and should produce positive value as a major leaguer. If he matches the production of those first basemen who he is most similar to, Yankees fans should be very excited.

The Bird is the Word, people, so get over to ebay and start bidding on some Greg Bird rookie cards.

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