When the Yankees initially drafted Bridges out of high school in 2013 he was assigned to the Gulf Coast League. He had a rough time adjusting there that season, hitting only .153. The following year he settled in bit better, raising his batting average over 60 points from the previous year and bashing five home runs, four more than he had his first season.
In 2015, after two years of pro ball experience but having only played a combined 74 games up to that point, he joined the Staten Island Yankees. There, he struggled still in 2015, hitting only .211 but again displaying some power, hitting four home runs and knocking in 25 runs.
“I started off really good, about the first month I would say I swung [the bat] real well," Bridges acknowledged the rough year. "From then on I struggled. I got down on myself, and just never really fought out of the hole. We had a great team though, and ended up real well, just personally I didn’t perform how I wanted to.”
Bridges started off last year strong too but had trouble continuing to perform from then on. He believes the decline was heavily dependent upon mental errors and approach.
“I’d say part of it was mentally, I just got down on myself every time I stepped in the box," he admitted. "I was just like, ‘I’ve got to get a hit here’ …I was just putting pressure on myself that I didn’t need to. I’d say that was probably the biggest issue I had.”
He learned that he needed to have patience with himself. This season though, Bridges is demonstrating how much he has learned during his first three years, and is off to a great start. He began this season with Charleston, which was a promotion up from Staten Island.
Even though he only played eight games for them this year, he enjoyed the experience and really focused on learning new ways to improve as a hitter.
“I loved it, anytime you get to move up, even if it’s not for long, it’s exciting," he said. "Charleston’s an awesome place, they have a great crowd. [It’s] a real fun place to play. We played in Columbia on the new field there, it’s beautiful, so I enjoyed every second of it."
He hit just .192 with nine strikeouts in his eight-game stint with the RiverDogs but even though his time was brief he believes he still picked up on some things.
“Watching guys up there, they have their routines down; you just learn from that, to have a routine everyday, and be able to fall back on something if you have a struggle,” he said.
So far, it looks as though his time up in Charleston has greatly helped him to improve his game. Through 18 games this year with the Staten Island Yankees, he’s hitting .284with two home runs, his OBP is .369, and he already has 21 hits, 13th best in the New York–Penn League. And perhaps more than anything else he has struck out just 12 times so far which is a huge decrease in his previous strikeout ratios.
Bridges is very aware of his growth as a player from last year to this one, specifically regarding his approach.
“I’m feeling a lot more consistent this year, I’m having team at-bats now. Last year, I would go up there and say, ‘I have to get a hit here,’ instead of looking at the situation and thinking, ‘This is what I’ve got to do to help the team win.’ I feel like I became more of a team player this year, which has helped our team and helped me personally.”
Eric Duncan, the hitting coach for the Staten Island Yankees, coached Bridges last year and sees some big differences in his game already this season as opposed to last.
“He is showing a better ability to make adjustments, not only in the game, but during [at-bats]," Duncan said. "That’s going to help anybody; there are some mechanical things that he’s getting better at, and it’s showing up; he’s having more consistent at-bats, and more consistent games.”
In order to avoid the drop-off that plagued Bridges last season, Duncan believes commitment is crucial.
“Continue to trust in his work and trust in the routine that he has developed," Duncan opined. "Early on, failure is going to happen, it’s a matter of how you respond.”
The development and growth Bridges is showing this season are making a huge difference in his excellent performance to date, and Staten Island Yankees Manager Dave Bialas admits that while he is playing well so far, he still needs to be working hard to succeed going forward.
“I think [he needs to focus on] just keeping his swing intact, making sure it’s short to the ball, and doesn’t get too long," Bialas commented. "I think that’s what he has to do. There’s some mechanical stuff that goes there, with the hitting guys…but really his approach, just being short to the ball and using the whole field."
While Bridges has put up some impressive numbers so far this season, he too is focused on maintaining them by keeping up a positive approach.
“I’m very pleased with what I’ve been doing [in 2016]," Bridges said. "I started off swinging [the bat] well but not [with] very much power, getting more singles. These last couple weeks I’ve started to hit balls to the gap more, to hit them over. I’m very pleased with the way I’m feeling right now.”
The now 21-year old is currently playing his fourth professional season and all four will have been spent in the short-season leagues. It has taken some time for his game to come around and to tap some of the significant potential he had when he was drafted but Bridges has seen first-hand what a difference just one year can make.
Kyle Higashioka – another Yankees farm system development who currently plays for the Double-A Yankees team, the Trenton Thunder – had a lot of potential after being drafted out of high school and took some time to develop, but has been inspiring to Bridges as he pursues his Major League dream as well.
“I’ve talked to him a lot, and he’s a great guy," Bridges revealed. "It took him a little bit to move up, but it’s great seeing someone that didn’t just shoot through the system be successful, and just it inspires us to know that even though we’re not moving right now, all is takes is a good year and then you’re on the radar.”