Heading into Spring Training, many eyes were on the New York Yankees top prospects such as Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, and Blake Rutherford along with a handful of others. But for the Yankees front office, as well as their coaching staff, their attention was mainly focused on the young players already on the Major League roster. Those players included 2016 Rookie of the Year runner-up catcher Gary Sanchez, along with the very promising first baseman Greg Bird, and the mammoth right fielder Aaron Judge.
Even though all three had a very impressive spring, it was Bird who dazzled the most at the plate. In 55 plate appearances, the young left-handed hitter batted .453 and led the Grapefruit and Cactus League in extra base hits with 16. He was also tied for the lead in home runs with the Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper with eight.
That makes Bird’s brutally rough start to the 2017 MLB season even more baffling considering how hot he was entering Opening Day.
Greg Bird Of The New York Yankees Is Off To A Brutal Start
Bird was so impressive during Spring Training that manager Joe Girardi penciled him in the number three spot in lineup to begin the season, which is usually reserved for the team’s best overall hitter. With the young sensation behind the plate in Sanchez, along with veterans like Jacoby Ellsbury and .300 career hitter Matt Holliday, it just goes to show how much faith Girardi had in Bird.
The Yankees drafted Bird out of the University of Arkansas in the fifth round of the 2011 MLB Draft. Bird would rise through every level of the Yankees farm system during the next four years, producing at a very high level at every stop. Finally in August of 2015, the sweet swinging lefty was promoted to the majors in order to backup veteran first baseman, Mark Teixeira, as well as designated hitter Alex Rodriguez.
After several days in Pinstripes, Bird would get the chance to play full-time after Teixeira fouled a ball off his shin, causing a fracture and ending his season. The rookie would now have a golden opportunity to show the Yankees organization just what he was capable of, and Bird would not disappoint. Bird would finish the season batting .261 with 11 home runs and 31 runs batted in.
Unfortunately in the 2016 off-season, Bird would suffer a torn labrum in his right shoulder, forcing him to miss the entire 2016 season. With the Yankees unsure how Bird would respond in 2017, they went out and signed former Milwaukee Brewers first baseman, Chris Carter, who had just led the National League in home runs in 2016 with 41. The plan heading into Spring Training was that Bird and Carter would share duties at first base during the regular season.
However, it became very clear, very fast that that wouldn’t be the case as Bird lit up the opposition in Spring Training. Bird’s numbers were ridiculous. Not only did he bat .453, but he led all players in extra base hits (16), on-base percentage (.556), slugging percentage (1.098), OPS (1.654), and was tied for the lead in home runs with eight.
Considering the brutal start that Bird has gotten off to, it just validates the point that Spring Training is meaningless in many different ways.
The Yankees started their season against the Tampa Bay Rays, and right away Bird looked like a completely different hitter. He found himself behind in counts early and was clearly lost at the plate. He was late on fastballs as if he was expecting something off-speed, and out in front of breaking balls as if he was expecting fastballs. If it wasn’t for a bloop single, he would’ve gone hitless during the three game series. Instead, he finished the series 1-for-12 with four strikeouts.
The Yankees next series was against the Baltimore Orioles for three games. Bird would go 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the first game before missing the next four games due to a sore foot and a touch of the flu.
He would return for the final game of a three-game series versus the Rays at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night. But instead of batting third in lineup, Girardi moved him down to the sixth spot. The move didn’t seem to help or even motivate Bird, as he finished the game 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, and once again looked completely lost at the plate.
Heading into Friday’s game with the St. Louis Cardinals, Bird was batting .050 (1-for 20) with ten strikeouts on the young season. If Bird’s struggles continue, Girardi might have to start platooning the left-handed hitter with the right-handed power hitter Carter. If the struggles persist into late May, early June, then Girardi and the Yankees might have to make the difficult decision of sending Bird down to Triple-A to work on getting his confidence back.