Should Yankees Fans Be Worried About Greg Bird’s Struggles in the AFL?
Greg Bird, the New York Yankees heir apparent at first base, has seen his bat go cold in the Arizona Fall League. It is now an open question whether he’ll be ready to take over a starting job in 2017 after missing all of this year to injury.
While the New York Yankees starting first base job in 2017 will nominally be decided by a competition during spring training, general manager Brian Cashman recently made it clear that the team would prefer that Greg Bird wins the job, telling MLB.com:
"Our hope is that Greg Bird — it’s going to be his to take and to control. Tyler Austin’s going to have a lot to say about that, I’m sure. But in terms of forecasting and planning, which in baseball, you have to use those terms loosely because things never go as planned. But the hope is that Greg Bird mans that position and becomes the player and hits the ceilings we expected before his shoulder injury."
That shouldn’t be shocking to most fans after the impact Bird had down the stretch during his 2015 MLB debut, when he hit .261/.343/.529 (135 OPS+) with 11 home runs in 178 plate appearances, his success arguably paving the way for guys like Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and Tyler Austin to come up this year.
One of the biggest disappointments for fans this year was the news that Bird would miss the entire regular season following shoulder surgery. It has been encouraging to see him return to the field in October and November to play in the Arizona Fall League, although his lack of power over the last few weeks has raised questions about the strength of his shoulder.
He has previously admitted it was not yet 100%, and to a certain extent fans should be patient with his progress. Just being out there playing and getting some repetitions at the plate is valuable. It was probably too much to ask to expect Bird to come back from missing the entire season without missing a step.
On the other hand, if Bird looks like he might need some more time in the minors next spring, it might affect the way they approach this offseason. This isn’t Bird’s first time in the AFL. Back in 2014 he was named the MVP of the league after hitting .313/.391/.556 with six home runs in 115 PA (26 G).
Things haven’t gone nearly as well this time. As of this writing, Bird has a .204/.338/.370 with one homer through 64 PA (14 G). He began the season by hitting four doubles in his first three games, but has just two extra base hits since then. Shoulder injuries are notorious for sapping the power of hitters, so that is definitely not a great sign.
Fans shouldn’t panic or overreact to a small sample size, but by no means should Bird just be handed the starting first base job next year if he isn’t ready. Austin has earned a look after hitting an OK .241/.300/.458 in 90 PA during the last two months of the season.
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The team might also want to consider bringing in a cheap veteran bat on a one year deal to act as a safety net. Free agents Steve Pearce and Adam Lind would be nice additions to the lineup and are both versatile enough to help off the bench if Bird wins the job outright.