Yankees Greg Bird About to Give a History Lesson
Opening day will be here soon. When you look down at first base on that day for the Yankees, you will see Greg Bird. Those who think otherwise need a history lesson and Professor Bird is about to give them one.
Do you know the most important word in baseball? The Yankees Greg Bird does. It’s consistency. Baseball is played every day, week after week, for six months. And that does not include, Spring Training or the postseason.
To win, the players need to produce every day. Had a career two weeks in May? Great. How many games does that help the Yankees win in September? Thanks for playing, Yangervis Solarte. Now take your talents to, well, anywhere as long as it is not here.
And even if you do that one year, really put it all together and have a great season, you need to do it all again the next year. And the year after that and the year after that. It is how you get to have a career and how we, and the players, judge you.
In case you haven’t guessed, it’s the reason Greg Bird has already won the first base job over Tyler Austin. And it’s not even close.
Yankees First Choice at First
Let’s go all the way back to 2013 and start with Austin. At 21, Austin plays the year at Double-A and slashes .257/.344/.373, although he only hits six home runs. Those are real numbers, and he improved upon them in the prospect showcase, the Arizona Fall League (AFL). Make no mistake: this tournament is a chance to show your best in a short burst and make a name for yourself. Austin’s name that year was .333/.438/.500. That’s a good reputation to have.
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But the Yankees felt he needed another year at Trenton, and his numbers were good but not spectacular in 2014. His slash line of .275/.336/.419 was an improvement, but the power still did not show up as he hit only nine homers. And his AFL numbers went down, as Austin hit .304/.392/.449. The trend is a bit worse than it looks. In 2013, he only played in 4 AFL games; in 2014 he played in 19. The more he played, the worse his numbers.
The arrows start to point down in 2015. Austin’s slash remains somewhat consistent while at Trenton–.260/.337/.455–but he only hits two home runs in 21 games. But they took a hit at Scranton: .235/.309/.311 with four home runs in almost 300 plate appearances; that’s half a season. Back in the AFL at 23, he puts up his worst numbers (.272/.344/.444).
Which prompts the Yankees to return to Tyler to Trenton in 2016 where he immediately failed to impress. He puts up a very pedestrian slash and then is returned to Scranton because they need someone to man the first base bag. And it is there, in the 57 games he played, that he finally began to show the promise again. He hits .323/.415/.667 while belting 13 homers. What a great 57 games; 57 games.
The Flight of the Bird
Greg Bird followed a different path, the one that has him already standing on first base for the Yankees come Opening day 2017. He is a year younger than Austin and played the 2013 season at Single-A at age 20. He hit .288/.428/.511 while also bashing 20 home runs.
But it is in 2014 that Bird shows his real potential. In 75 games at Single-A Tampa, he slashed .277/.375/.442 while hitting seven home runs. However, once he moves up to Double-A, he hits .253/.379/.558. His average dipped, but his slugging improved. Also, in only 27 games against better pitching, he hits another seven homers.
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He returns to the AFL, where Austin is also playing, and hits .313/.391/.556. He also hits 6 home runs in only 26 games. Greg Bird is named the MVP of the Arizona Fall League, as well as MVP of the Fall Stars Game; Tyler Austin is not.
Finally in 2015, Bird removed all doubt as to who is the next Yankees first baseman. Still at Trenton for the first 49 games, he hits .258/.358/.445 with 6 homers. Once promoted to Triple-A, he responds to better opposition by getting better: in only 34 games, he hits .301/.353/.500. He also hits 6 more home runs in those 34 games.
Bird was called up to the Show that year and did what he seemingly always does, playing better against better competition. In his 46 game tryout, Bird hit .261/.343./529 and smashed 11 home runs. Just to be fair, Austin also had a tryout for the Yankees, albeit in 2016. Tyler hit .241/.300/.458 with just 5 homers in his 31 games.
Who’s On First
There is no competition for first base. It already played out over the course of the last few seasons and Bird won hands down. I know that Bird missed all of last year but others have had similar surgeries and I know of known who lost their ability to hit at this young age. That is overblown sports writing.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Tyler Austin. And all Yankees fans want every prospect to become great. But the only way that Austin wins is if Bird gets hurt. That’s it. And that’s because the Yankees know history. I am not sure all of the fans and sportswriters do.
But that’s okay because Professor Bird is about to teach a class on just that subject. Don’t be late because Spring Training 2017 is about to be the most fun history class Yankees fans have ever had.