NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 06: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Greg Bird #31 of the New York Yankees in action against the Houston Astros during the American League Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium on October 6, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City, New York. The Astros defeated the Yankees 3-0. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
“We’re confident he’s the dude. So hopefully he’ll start dude-ing up sooner or later.” That’s what Yankees manager Aaron Boone recently told the media about first baseman Greg Bird. The one-time highly-rated prospect has struggled in the Major Leagues, in large part due to a rash of injuries.
Though the feeling is that Bird has nothing more to prove in the minor leagues, it’s time for him to head to Scranton.
The Major Leagues are not level “Quad-A” of the minor leagues. Each step in the minors is a large one but pales in comparison from the jump to Triple-A to the Majors.
Things were very different for Bird back in 2015. In 83 minor league games, split between Double-A Trenton and Scranton, Bird posted splits of .277/.356/.459. He made his Major League debut that season and played in 46 games. Everyone took notice as Bird hit .261/.343/.529 with 11 HR and 31 RBI. The Yankees “next great first baseman” was ready for prime-time.
But, the future didn’t go as planned for Bird when he missed the 2016 season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Since then, it’s been a struggle for him to stay healthy and be productive.
Hopes were high after Bird destroyed the opposing pitching during Spring Training in 2017. He hit eight home runs and drove in 15 runs in 23 games. But, he didn’t last long once the season began. An ankle injury landed him on the disabled list on May 2 and he remained there until late August. At the time of his injury, Bird’s splits were .100/.250/.200.
The first baseman’s return to the lineup later in the 2017 season once again gave the Yankees hope that he would have a tremendous 2018 season. In 77 at-bats, he put up a .286/.316/.510 split with 12 extra base-hits among his 22 overall hits. Bird also knocked in 25 runs in 29 games.
Additionally, Bird contributed to the Yankees’ unexpectedly long post-season run with a .426 on-base percentage and a .512 slugging percentage.
But, the black cloud that seems to be following Bird struck again before the 2018 regular season even began. After struggling at the plate in Spring Training, Bird underwent surgery on March 26 to remove a broken bone spur in his right ankle, the same ankle that had caused him to miss most of the previous season.
Bird was out of action for two months and since his return he has not hit with any authority. Entering this weekend’s series with Boston, his split of.190/.308/.382 is one of the worst in baseball. He makes the most of hits – nearly 60 percent are for extra bases – but, as of this writing, he had just 17 hits.
You will not find too many players who have a WAR of 0.0 over a two-year period, but Bird is at the top of the list.
Walker and Austin
The signing of veteran player Neil Walker during this past offseason seemed to be a great move. Normally a second baseman, Walker has played both of the corner infield positions in the last couple of seasons and adds power to an already powerful lineup.
But, the longtime Pittsburgh Pirate has had just one hot streak the over the course of the entire season. Comparaitvely, Walker’s split of .185/.261/.259 makes you feel like Bird is hitting like Don Mattingly in his prime.
Tyler Austin has been riding the Scranton-Bronx express for the past three seasons. He rode a 10-game red-hot streak from April 7th through April 25th, during which he had multiple hits in six of the 10 games he played and produced a .375/.444/.725 slash line. But since then, it’s been all downhill.
Austin went into a 0-22 skid and produced only nine hits in 59 May and June at-bats. It earned him a ticket back to Scranton.
This column was written prior to the media reporting that Drury was rumored to be on his way to New York for the three-game series with the Red Sox. Boston will be throwing three left-handers, so Boone will be loading the lineup with right-handers, especially against Chris Sale on Saturday.
Luis Cessa was sent down after Wednesday’s game, so the Yankees don’t need to make another move to accommodate Drury’s spot on the 25-man roster.
With Boone and Cashman’s confidence that Bird will turn things around, it doesn’t appear that the Yankees will look to add a first baseman from outside the organization. For the moment, they aren’t considering anyone inside the organization either, though that could and should change.
The Yankees acquired Brandon Drury from Arizona in February as part of a three-team deal that also included Tampa Bay. One of Drury’s biggest assets has been his versatility. Though he’s considered a second baseman, he’s also played third base and he has manned the outfield 89 times.
GM Brian Cashman’s plan was to have Drury play second base or third base until Miguel Andujar or Gleyber Torres was ready for regular Major League action. Drury had played eight games as the primary third baseman and was struggling at the plate when he was checked out by team doctors for blurred vision.
It turned out that Drury had been suffering from migraine headaches for several years and had kept it to himself. Considering the decent numbers he put up in AZ for the past two seasons, you can just imagine what more he might have accomplished had he been able to see clearly.
With Dury on the DL and not much production at second base from Tyler Wade, both Andujar and Torres were called up and have consistently produced with their bats and gloves. The Yankees are still high on Drury but don’t currently have a fit for him.
The team recently had Drury start to play some first base for Scranton (he’s played four games at first base to date), though they have not committed to having him play that position in the Major Leagues. But, Drury’s bat may just force the issue. After hitting .315 with 5 HR, 13 doubles, a triple, and three stolen bases, Drury was recently named to the International League All-Star team.
Drury, who will only be 26-years old in August, has also scored 28 runs, slugged .494, and has 53 hits in 47 games. If the Yankees don’t want to demote Bird, they could (at the very least) platoon Drury and Bird, and jettison Walker.
For now, it’s safe to say that if Bird continues to hit at a .190 clip, the Yankees will be forced to make a change.