Bird Right Where He Wants To Be

His 2014 season has not come without its fair share of hiccups but Greg Bird, who began the year on the disabled list before ultimately earning a promotion up to Double-A where he is currently making some adjustments, says he is right where he wants to be with his game.

He missed all of Spring Training with a sore back and began the season on the disabled list. In fact, he missed the first five weeks of the season before returning to action with high-A Tampa.

It took him a little bit of time to find his groove but he wound up posting some solid numbers in the Florida State League, hitting .277 with seven home runs and posting an .817 OPS for the Tampa Yankees. But more importantly the back hasn't been an issue since his return a few months ago.

"It went good," Bird said of his time in Tampa. "It was a late start obviously but once I got settled in it was fine. I started hitting the ball and first base [defensively] came along well. It was great.

"I missed April and a little bit of May but it's been great. Since then I haven't had any problems. I think it took me a little bit to get going because I missed Spring Training, just get everything going. But I've felt great all year."

He earned a promotion to Double-A Trenton on August 2nd and was named Eastern League Hitter of the Week his first week up, a week which included a four-hit game and three home runs in a two-game span.

"Getting promoted is awesome, the work you put in paying off," Bird said. "That was great news. It's been fun so far.

"The consistency still isn't where I want it to be obviously but it's an adjustment and I just think you need to stay patient and give it time, but it's been good so far. The guys have been great and it's been fun."

While he's clubbed five home runs already in his first 17 games, he's hitting just .250 and struck out 20 times so far. However, an overly patient hitter, Bird is just taking his time learning the new league.

He says that while he has stepped up his aggressiveness earlier in counts this year in comparison to past years, he does like to take his time to learn the new pitchers he's facing in the interest of long-term success.

"I've done it more this year and I've had success with it. I like it but I'm a big believer, especially the first time through [the league] and seeing guys I haven't seen before, trying to see different pitches because it helps you down the road.

"This is a whole new league with guys I haven't seen before. You might sacrifice a little bit at the beginning but in the long run I think it pays off. I have swung a little more early this year than last year but I think that comes with my approach and knowing guys and knowing what I'm trying to do."

While some of the numbers might not jump off of the page for some critics, Bird's coaches can't help but be immediately impressed with their new cleanup hitter.

"He comes as advertised," hitting coach Marcus Thames said. " I've heard about him but never really seen him play [before now]. I watched video of him though and the hitting coach in Tampa always raved about him.

"He's got strike zone discipline and never shows any panic, that's huge for a kid who is 21 years old. He does a great job up there. He's got a plan and he sticks with it. He doesn't go out of the strike zone that often and that's a huge thing, knowing which pitches you hit and which ones you don't. I like what I see so far."

"Geez, he's been productive for us," Thunder manager Tony Franklin added. "It's hard not to like the kid. This is really my first opportunity to see him play for an extended period of time. I've seen him at the complex, I've seen him at Spring Training, but if the guys aren't playing for you, you don't really have an idea of what they're about. But since Greg's been here it's pretty evident to me that this guy is pretty solid player.

"His ability to hit, I think it's tremendous. I think he's one of the guys baseball is looking for in the tradition of what they're trying to do today, high OPS rating, on-base percentage, plus he's got some power. I think we've got a good package there on both sides of the ball and I think everything is geared towards getting better. I'm pretty excited about what we've got here."

Just like he did in Charleston a year ago [he hit .281 in the first half with an .860 OPS and then hit .295 with 1.012 OPS in the second half] and in Tampa earlier this season [he hit .246 in the first 37 games before hitting .307 in his final 38 games], Bird is going to take his time adjusting in the short-term to have long-term success.

And while that may not be optimal for many onlookers, Bird and his coaches wouldn't have it any other way.

"He's learning how to hit," Thames said. "He's up here now learning the league, learning how guys are trying to pitch him. I've seen him take BP, he can put a charge into a ball. The power is there but he's a hitter.

"I think he's going to be a kid who hits for average and for power. I like what I see; a nice short stroke, compact, and he can put a charge into it. I'm not worried about the power.

"He's aggressive when he gets a pitch he knows he can hit and that's what you want to do -- you don't want to go up there swinging. He has a real good idea of what he's doing up there."

"That will come in time," Franklin added. "When you find out what pitchers are trying to do to you, what they're capable of doing to you, you'll have some history on these guys. Once you get to the big leagues you starting seeing these guys over and over again, and nothing is going to change much.

"I think the patience is good right now and over time I think he'll develop the skill of when he needs to be more aggressive. He's certainly going to hit for power, there's no question about that.

"I think [here] you're trying to figure out what kind of hitter you're going to be. Once you get there and you figure out what the pitchers are trying to do to you it will develop. I think the aggressiveness will come about.

"Let me give you an example. I think Brett Gardner is that perfect example. Greg certainly comes with power credentials right now, or some at least. I think he's got the chance to get a whole lot better."

In the end 'getting better' is what it's all about. And if there's one thing Bird has proven in his career thus far it is just give him the time to find his bearings and make the adjustments, and he will find a way to get better.

"Every level you go up the consistency just gets better and the quality of play is at a higher level," Bird said. "They're able to go out there and do it on a more consistent basis and you just have to adjust to it.

"I think the work I put in thus far let me hit the ground running and I think that's why I've had a little bit of success early. Obviously there's room to improve but it's been good so far.

"I was a little impatient in April, I'll be honest, but I'm right where I want to be now and where I need to be right now. I wanted to get here [to Double-A] at some point this year and I did that so I'm happy with where I'm at," he concluded.

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