This might be the year for Greg Bird. Sound familiar? It should, but seriously, this might be the year for Greg Bird. Multiple underwhelming seasons and an organizational desire to avoid carrying two full-time first basemen meant Bird’s chances of making the big league roster were very slim just a month ago, but Bird just won’t go away. There’s still has a long way to go before anyone can say he’s unquestionably the best first baseman in the organization, but right now, the Yankee first base competition is far from settled.
Luke Voit came into spring training as the top first baseman on the depth chart and reasonably so, but since camp broke, Bird has done quite literally everything possible to keep the competition alive. He’s simply been one of the best hitters in the league this spring. Prior to Thursday’s action, Bird was top-three in OBP and OPS among qualified hitters. He’s right near the top of the team rankings in terms of plate appearances too, which throws some credibility to his statistics. He’s not putting up these kinds of numbers by stringing together a few, solid late-game at-bats.
Granted, it is still spring training, so the quality of talent on the field isn’t always on par with that in the majors. However, according to Baseball-Reference’s Opponent Quality metric, Bird has faced better competition than Voit so far. This isn’t at all meant to reflect poorly on Voit but meant to praise the way Bird has responded to his demotion.
Health is the reason Bird has been able find some success. The performance issues the last few seasons are inextricably linked to Bird’s poor luck with injuries. Three surgeries in as many years sapped him of essentially all his strength. His Average Exit Velocity was at a very respectable 93 MPH during his debut season in 2015. However, that figure fell dramatically after all the surgeries. In 2018, Bird’s Average Exit Velocity was 86.9 MPH, a well-below league average level. At several points last season, Bird just looked overmatched at the plate, but that’s not the case currently.
We don’t have Exit Velocity figures for spring training games, but as far as the eye test goes, it seems safe to say Bird is back and stronger than we’ve seen him in a long time. He came in to spring training 20 pounds heavier than he did last season, and while the “best shape of his life” cliche exists for a reason, it seems to be working for Bird. Aaron Boone recently told WFAN’s Sweeny Murti of WFAN, “Bird’s been a different guy this year. He’s been the guy we’ve been waiting on. He looks that part right now.”
These assessments ring true when you look at Bird’s game log. Of his six extra-base hits, he has only pulled two to right field. Bird isn’t weakly rolling over outside pitches but driving them up the middle or to the opposite field. He took a splitter on the outer half of the plate and drove it over the left-center field wall on Sunday. Here’s the video:
Uh oh don't tell me Greg Bird ALSO homered today pic.twitter.com/TEAQ59ib6G— David Mendelsohn (@BigBabyDavid_) March 17, 2019
Even though the Yankees started to move past Bird, first baseman of the the future, it doesn’t appear as if he’s going down without a fight. After finally getting healthy this offseason, Bird is back and driving the ball with authority. It wasn’t so long ago Brian Cashman lauded Bird as “by far” the best hitter among the Yankee prospects. Injuries have certainly gotten in the way of living up to that praise, but we’ve seen a completely different Greg Bird since camp broke, and Yankee fans should be pleased.
Bird has been one of the best Yankees at the plate these last few weeks. We’ve still got a long way to go before we can say, “2019 was the year Greg Bird finally arrived,” but we’ve taken the very first step in that direction. With Aaron Hicks on the injured list, it’s likely Bird will break camp with the big league team, and he deserves that chance. With Giancarlo Stanton in left field, Bird should find time at first and in the DH spot. If he continues to perform like he has this past month, then the first base conversation is probably long from over. This might just be the year for Greg Bird.