When the Yankees drafted Greg Bird out of high school, the assumption was that he would struggle at some point, as most high school prospects do. But at the young age of 22, here he is in the major leagues. Keep in mind; Bird played a grand total of 28 games in his first full professional season due to injury. Counting Sunday's game against the Braves, he has a slash line of .255/.339/.412. That is good for a wRC+ of 108, above league average but not amazing for first basemen. However, he could be further along the learning curve than the box score suggests.
There is a reason Greg Bird has consistently gained so much praise from the front office. Brian Cashman once told the YES Network's Jack Curry that Bird was the best hitter in the Yankees farm system, high praise considering other names like Aaron Judge, Rob Refsnyder, and Gary Sanchez are on that list. Even Alex Rodriguez had good things to say about the rookie first baseman, telling ESPN's Andrew Marchand that Bird could be the next great Yankee hitter. They can't all be wrong, can they? Bird's splits seem to agree with Cashman and A-Rod (not including Sunday's game):
While Bird's strikeout rate of 25.4% can look ugly, it is inflated by his extremely passive approach at the plate. As his plate discipline and whiff stats show, Bird certainly has the ability to make consistent contact. He also hits the ball to all fields with authority, as fans saw last year in the Arizona Fall League when he hit a towering home run the other way in the AzFL All Star Game.
If someone wanted to force a reason to worry about Bird, he or she could point out his patient approach at the plate as an issue. Someone might argue that he doesn't swing very often because he can't hit a certain type of pitch. Looking at the pitch weights on Fangraphs, Bird has had above average production against fastballs and sinkers and has struggled against sliders and curveballs, again in a very small sample size.
Fortunately, his swing mechanics suggest that he shouldn't have major timing issues going forward. Here is a great video on A-Rod's swing, narrated by none other than Yankees assistant hitting coach Alan Cockrell:
Starting at around the 1:20 mark, the video shows an instance where A-Rod was fooled on an breaking ball, but still managed to recover and make solid contact. The major takeaway is that A-Rod's body doesn't fly open early because he doesn't let his left knee get out in front of his left foot and his torso stays facing home plate. Here is a slow-mo gif of Greg Bird's swing:
He definitely keeps his right knee behind his foot. His torso appears to fly open a bit, but the footage is of an Ervin Santana fastball that was pulled into the Yankee bullpen in right center. In any case, his swing shouldn't inhibit his ability to hit every kind of pitch. In an ideal world, Mark Teixeira would be back sooner than later. But if he takes a while to get back to the Yankee lineup, the Bombers should be fine at first base.
*Data is courtesy of Fangraphs