Everyone knows the story on Greg Bird. Many roll their eyes at his inability to stay on the field since he suffered a torn labrum prior to the 2016 season, but in the short time that he returned in 2017 after battling numerous foot problems, he was spectacular. Perhaps that exciting potential only adds to the frustration of not seeing consistent production from Bird over his first few seasons, but regardless of where the frustration comes from, it should be toned down.
Sure, seeing a promising prospect stumble multiple times out of the major league gate is aggravating to see, especially when that player is supposed to be accounting for a crucial corner infield spot. With Bird finally healthy and playing every day after another surgery cut his spring training short, it’s important to remember just how much time Bird has missed since he arrived in the Bronx in 2015. There is going to be significant rust that needs to be shrugged away before Bird can really shine, and he should be allotted that time.
Bird almost had a full spring training before surgery cut it short, and has been back for just over two weeks now. It’s incredibly difficult for a player to ease right back into a rhythm of everyday baseball, as Bird’s .254 OBP through 14 games illustrates. Despite these early struggles, Bird has shown flashes of his 2017 postseason self, including in Wednesday night’s loss to the Nationals, when Bird went 2-for-4 with a home run. He finished that evening with just 11 hits through his first 59 plate appearances, but eight have been for extra base hits. The potential of Bird’s left-handed power balancing and enhancing the Yankees‘ righty-heavy lineup is enough incentive to give him the time he needs to get into a groove.
If there is concern about the amount of time it will take for Bird to find his way, look no further than one of his backups at first base. Neil Walker was thrown right into the fire at the start of the 2018 season when Bird went down, and Walker had to start the regular season with very minimal preparation time. The result was a disastrous April, as Walker finished the month with a .178 wOBA. Just as cries for his release began to surface, Walker turned the corner in May, and finished his second month of work with a wOBA of .394, while providing the Yankees with valuable versatility in the infield. It’s hard to argue that Walker’s delayed outburst was unrelated to his late spring start, and the same could be said for Bird, who just needs some time to get back into a daily baseball routine. Two weeks just isn’t enough time, and he shouldn’t be judged on that minuscule sample size.
Bird’s pace at the end of the 2017 season when he returned from injury was impressive to say the least. A full season of that type of production would have resulted in nearly 50 home runs. Bird won’t get that full season this year, but if he can stay healthy, he will have the opportunity to show Yankees fans why he has been worth the wait.