Bird Will Get Back To Where He Wants To Be

TRENTON, NJ — In a group of Yankee prospects that includes the highly-esteemed Aaron Judge, first baseman Greg Bird has emerged as one of the best young hitters in the organization. Though he has been plagued by slow starts the last couple of seasons, he has been feeling good at the plate.

“I guess it’s just part of getting back into the grind of playing everyday,” Bird said. “But I’ve been feeling great at the plate, seeing the ball well. I haven’t been as consistent as I want yet but I’ll get back to where I want to be.”

Even Alex Rodriguez was impressed by the left-handed Bird when he saw him play for the first time in Charleston two years ago. After Spring Training of this season, he said Bird would be a number three hitter in the Bronx for a long time.

“That was huge coming from him,” Bird said. “We’re talking about one of the greatest hitters of all time to be honest. That was my goal in Spring Training; to just talk to those guys and build some relationships.”

A former standout at Grandview High School in Aurora, Colorado, Bird was named the state’s Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year as a senior. He had originally committed to play for the University of Arkansas, but made the decision to sign with the Yankees after being a fifth-round pick in 2011. Bird was drafted as a catcher, but has since moved to first base.

That same season, he made his professional debut with the Gulf Coast Yankees and appeared in four games. He finished with a fairly dismal batting average of .083. Though his play was limited in 2012 due to injuries, Bird started to turn some heads at the plate. With the Staten Island Yankees of the New York-Penn League, Bird hit .337 with two homers and an On-Base Percentage of .450.

However, his breakout year came in 2013 with low-A Charleston. He hit .288 with 20 home runs and a minor league-leading 107 walks. He was awarded the Kevin Lawn Award for the Yankees Minor League Player of the Year.

Last season, Bird started with Tampa and batted .277 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs before being promoted to Double-A Trenton. Hitting coach P.J. Pilittere sees a natural hitter who is simply seeking enough consistency to move up to the Major Leagues.

“He swings at good pitches and sees the ball really well,” said Pilittere. “I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you that his consistency isn’t where he wants it to be. But there’s no reason to have concern for him at the plate right now, he’ll heat up, I know he will.”

For the rest of 2014 with Trenton, Bird added seven more home runs, eleven RBIs, and an average of .253 to put his full-season numbers at .271, 14 homers, and 43 RBIs in 102 games.

While playing in the Arizona Fall League All-Star game, Bird hit a towering 450-foot home run to turn even more heads.

Bird, alongside Judge, was put to the test with the Yankees in this year’s Spring Training. He felt it was a success.

“I thought it went really well,” he said. “I stayed healthy, which is probably the biggest thing; and I thought I was in pretty good shape. I was able to pick the brain of guys like A-Rod which was an awesome experience.”

This season, Bird has gotten off to what some might consider a slow start after 22 games. He is hitting .232 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. Trenton manager Al Pedrique said there is no reason to worry about the elite prospect.

“He’s a smart hitter. I’m not concerned at all because he’s a guy who can use the whole field,” he said. “His swing is short enough where he can make some adjustments and stay inside the ball and put it in play. I worry about the guys who strikeout a lot. But with Bird, he’s just missing the ball so it’s a minor adjustment.”

Although it is tough for a hitter with so much ability to improve, Pilittere has seen tremendous strides from Bird since last season.

“Sometimes it’s hard to see improvements when you’re dealing with a guy who has so much pure talent,” he said. “But his strides have come in the mental aspect. He’s more prepared for situational hitting and things like that. He knows how to hit the tough left-handed pitching.”

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