Does Greg Bird Replace Mark Teixeira As Yankees First Baseman?
Listed at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and looking every bit the part, Greg Bird strikes an imposing figure. Despite Bird’s stature, he failed to put on a show in batting practice at Prince George’s Stadium, home of the Bowie Baysox. He didn’t attempt to muscle balls over the fence, nor did the ball make a loud crack when the left-handed hitter’s bat connected. Did warning track power in batting practice result in less than stellar results in game action?
The Yankees’ 2011 5th Round draft pick has a simple batting stance with little movement. He maintains a wide base, loading most of his body weight on the back leg before slightly raising the front foot and uncoiling the bat. While the first baseman’s history of back problems is troublesome, Bird’s swing does not appear violent. In comparison to where his swing was an amateur, Bird has a more pronounced uppercut. This change is the likely result of attempting to take advantage of Bird’s power and Yankee Stadium’s dimensions.
While Bird did not exactly light the world on fire in batting practice, the power he did show carried over to game action. In one at bat against Zach Davies (ROTOscouting Report), Bird hit what he, and everyone in the stadium assumed was a fly ball with a chance of burning the center fielder. Bird ran hard out of the box and was rounding first base as the ball easily cleared the fence just to the left of the 405’ sign in center field.
Every Greg Bird at bat is a war of attrition. Unafraid of hitting with two strikes, the Yankees prospect lets pitches go by without so much as a flinch while waiting for his pitch. This approach has served him well in his minor league career, but the power hitter will need to adjust or risk being consistently behind the count against opponents with the ability to spot pitches. As mentioned in Mike Newman’s column on Joey Gallo last week, the list of productive hitters in the majors who strike out in more than 30% of their plate appearances is short. Thus far, Bird has managed to keep his strikeout rate at 23% or below and, encouragingly, he struck out less this year than last while !advancing multiple levels.
Greg Bird is slow. In 264 career minor league games, Bird has stolen two bases and been caught once. His managing to steal those two bases is one of the great mysteries in recent minor league history. The catcher may have either literally fallen asleep or someone involved in the play fell down as the plodding first baseman regularly notched home to first times around 4.4 seconds.
The first baseman is a below average defender. Because of his lack of foot speed, Bird is not capable of covering much ground. He is not the type of first baseman who will save his team’s pitchers by picking up extra outs in foul territory or along the right field line. In addition, the converted catcher is not yet comfortable enough around the first base bag to make full use of his wingspan. On his first opportunity in the series against Bowie, Bird failed to properly position himself in front of a soft liner, instead awkwardly stabbing at the ball as it bounced off his glove and then bobbling the recovery.
One area where Bird’s background as a catcher shows up positively is his strong and accurate arm. In the present era of defensive realignments, Bird’s ability to make all the throws potentially required of him is useful.
After enduring a season of Lyle Overbay, starting first baseman, Yankees fans excitedly awaited the return of Mark Teixeira in 2014. Unfortunately for them, Teixeira has spent most of the season injured, ineffective or both. With Teixeira’s contract beginning to look just as bad as Alex Rodriguez and C.C. Sabathia’s it’s no wonder fans are already pinning their hopes to Greg Bird’s bat. Despite his huge 2013 with Charleston and loud Double-A debut, these fans should temper their expectations, as Bird’s offensive upside is closer to Nick Swisher minus the strong defense.
The first base prospect still has work left to do in the minors as he attempts to find the proper balance between patience and aggressiveness at the plate and cleans up his defense. As a fly ball hitter with an uppercut swing and plus power, he is primed for a productive Arizona Fall League season and can build momentum towards a potential 2015 September call-up.
Tool Present Future Projected Role Starting First Baseman Hitting Ability 30 50 Power 40 60 Speed 30 20 Fielding Ability 30 40 Arm 55 55
Owning Greg Bird
It’s difficult to picture Bird in a Yankees uniform as they’ve shuttled many mid-level prospects like him to other teams in recent years. After all, Pinstripes first basemen include Lou Gehrig, Don Mattingly and other star level hitters. If Bird hits like Nick Swisher, he’ll be no more than an $8 player at auction which is just okay for deeper leagues. After missing the playoffs in 2014, the Yankees will either force moves to strengthen weaknesses or stand pat and let the albatross contracts expire. For franchises with limited resources like the Mets or Braves, it makes sense to reel spending in and work to compete with less. For the Yankees, they’ll spend like drunken sailors in an attempt to buy another World Series. This means Greg Bird will probably take the Peter O’Brien route and gain a little helium before being pawned to the highest bidder. This is a positive for the fantasy baseball owner who hopes to benefit from the Yankees value bump and and sell high before Bird is exiled to a team like the Padres. – Mike Newman
23 Sep 2014 / Fabian McNally /
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