With yet another injury to Greg Bird, this season’s ever-changing lineup will have to adjust once again. Injuries to Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks all felt like huge losses of production when first announced, but there exists something of a different feeling when it comes to Bird. Bird was thought to be someone who could produce as the others worked their way to return after brief absences; instead, he faces one the most significant injuries that has struck the Yankees this year.
Bird faces another potentially long recovery with a plantar fascia tear. With Bird currently on the injured list, we get to see Mike Ford make his major league debut, and become the next player up to hopefully give this lineup another bat when they need it the most.
We don’t yet know how the Yankees intend to use Ford. They could go with four outfielders in the linueup, using Frazier as the designated hitter, or they once again could use both first basemen at once while the better defender takes the field. What we do know is with so many players on the injured list, Ford has the opportunity to make that decision for the Yankees if he performs.
Scanning through Ford’s numbers in the minors, the first thing that jumps off the screen is his plate discipline. During 2016 and 2017, Ford drew more walks than he did strikeouts. Last year in the majors, only five players out of 278 with than 300 plate appearances accomplished this feat of discipline. Only Joey Votto has done it in each of the past two seasons. I’m certainly not comparing major league level of play to the minors, but it should be a refreshing change of pace to see a player trying to turn strikeouts into walks, or simply trying put the ball in play with frequency.
One example of a player already doing this on the team is DJ LeMahieu. He has been able to consistently extend his at-bats by rarely leaving the zone and fouling off pitches. He almost never deigns to swing and miss, and walks nearly as much as he strikes out. This is also a characteristic we have seen from Brett Gardner for years, though Gardner, unlike LeMahieu, hasn’t had much success once the ball has been put into play.
As fans, we love to see players come out of nowhere and provide great performances when they finally get their shot. Right now, with so many players injured, Ford couldn’t have a better opportunity. Ford joined the Yankee organization in 2013 out of Princeton University, where he won both Ivy League player and pitcher of the year awards as a two-way player. He’s logged 561 minor league games, a veritable eternity down on the farm (for comparison Aaron Judge played in 348 minor league games between 2014 and 2017). In other words, Ford has waited quite some time now for this day
During the 2017 Rule 5 draft, Ford was chosen by the Mariners and quickly returned to the Yankees during spring training in 2018. He didn’t make it to the team then, while Greg Bird and Tyler Austin were in his way, but now, with Bird injured again and Austin in San Francisco, Ford is finally getting his shot. Maybe he’ll make a large impact like other Yankees rookies in recent years, Judge, Gleyber Torres, and Miguel Andujar among them. His impact may be small, given his prospect pedigree pales in comparison to those other recent rookies. Regardless, he’s had a long journey to the majors, and hopefully, he can do more to help the Yankees than hurt them when he at last gets his chance.