DUNEDIN — After missing all of last season due to a shoulder injury, Greg Bird has regained his powerful swing this spring, easing any concerns the Yankees may have had about their 24-year-old first baseman in the process.
“It’s nice to see him healthy and productive,” Brian Cashman said. “That gives you optimism that he’s going to be a contributor during the season, because we’re obviously trying to win games — and it’s lights, camera, action soon enough. I sleep better now than I would’ve had it been the alternative.”
In 31 Grapefruit League at-bats, Bird has 14 hits — including four homers. His OPS stands at 1.579.
“It’s quiet, really quiet,” Joe Girardi said of Bird’s lefty stroke earlier in the spring. “When you watch him swing, it’s very relaxed. He’s got a very good idea. You don’t really see him chase a lot of pitches out of the zone. And he hits to all fields.”
Bird’s swing has always been based on simplicity.
“My theory is the less movement, the less that can go wrong,” Bird said. “The ball is already moving however which way so I just try to keep it simple and it’s worked out so far so I’m just going to keep doing it.”
Bird credits John Cronican, a youth coach he had when his family moved to Colorado from Tennessee, for helping his development as a hitter. Bird’s biggest takeaway from Cronican: go the other way.
“He saw so many pitches on the outside part of the plate — especially a big strong like him — that there was no sense trying to pull the ball,” Cronican said. “He just needed to hit it the other way. I’m a big believer that it’s harder to learn how to hit the ball the other way with confidence than it is to pull the ball. It’s easy to pull the ball once you know how to hit the ball the other way.”
Those early lessons have paid off.
“He really understands barrel to the ball,” Cronican said. “He just has a natural ability to get the barrel of his bat to the ball no matter where it is or what speed it is.”
Bird played on Cronican’s travel teams from ages 11-14. When he was 12, they added a player named Bryce Harper to the roster and went undefeated. Sometimes, when Harper pitched, Bird caught him. “He threw the ball really, really hard,” Bird recalled. “It was fun.”
Despite all he’s learned from hitting coaches, Bird says he’s his own best coach.
“What’s useful is to have an extra set of eyes because if I’m feeling something is off, it’s nice to be able to go to someone who understands my swing like Alan Cockrell or Marcus Thames just for another set of eyes, another opinion as to what’s going on.”
Bird grew up appreciating the likes of Todd Helton and Joe Mauer at the plate, a pair of all-around hitters from the left side. As for Harper, a potential $400 million Yankee free-agent target in 2019, Bird said, “I’ve never really talked with him about hitting. I haven’t talked to him in a really long time. Maybe when we play the Nationals (on Monday) I’ll be able to talk with him a bit. He’s got a really good swing and he’s proved that. He’s patient. I like watching him hit, too.”
Bird was one of the highest-regarded prospects in the organization when he came up at the end of 2015, and he delivered at the plate, connecting for 11 homers and posting an .871 OPS in 157 at-bats. But he wasn’t able to build on it in 2016, instead being forced to rehab in Tampa all year.
Bird then hit just .200 in 65 at-bats during the Arizona Fall League. Concern about his future lingered. “I wasn’t looking at the numbers,” he said. “I just wanted to have quality at-bats. I think in the spring it’s been more about just playing than getting healthy and figuring out how to play again.”
Bird returned to Colorado during the offseason and worked with Cronican at a local baseball facility. For most of January, Bird did tee and toss. Two weeks before spring training, he got live BP from Cronican and former Angels and A’s lefty reliever Mark Holzemer.
Bird has taken off from there.
“I feel great. I tell people everyday it’s awesome to come to the ballpark and feel good and then come home and still feel good,” Bird said. “I didn’t necessarily have that for a long time, so it’s cool to feel good again and have fun playing baseball.”
Said Cashman of Bird: “The talent level is still there. It looks like the player we had before the injury is still the same player, and that’s what we were hoping for.”
Published at Thu, 16 Mar 2017 19:02:56 +0000