Well, for the first time this season, Yankee fans can say the Bird is the word.
That’s because Greg Bird, the oft-injured lefty-swinging first baseman will make his 2018 season debut after a long rehab stint following a second surgery on his ankle. It has come at the cost of fan favorite Ronald Torreyes, who, in a corresponding move was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre.
Despite Torreyes’ ability to play multiple positions, Bird’s swing, which seems tailormade for the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, adds a much needed dynamic to the predominantly right-handed Yankees lineup.
But Bird will join a team that has catapulted itself into one of the best teams in all of baseball. The expectations are at an all-time high, and now, more than ever, Bird will have to prove that he is the first baseman of the future. That starts with leaving his extensive injury-plagued past exactly where it belongs.
It all started in 2016.
After an impressive 46 game cameo in 2015, Bird missed the 2016 season following shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. Bird was the first arrival of the highly touted Baby Bombers, but he had to watch from afar as Gary Sanchez lit the baseball world on fire in the final two months of that season.
Leading into the 2017 season, there was hope the Yankees would reap the benefits of an infusion of youth in the heart of the lineup. Sanchez had just come off of a campaign that saw him second in voting for Rookie of the Year, and despite early struggles, Aaron Judge was on the cusp of a breakout. The trio of Sanchez, Judge, and Bird would’ve been the heart of a Yankees team that was rebuilt on the fly; they would not sacrifice their competitiveness while also seeing how good the youngsters really were.
When Bird fouled a ball off of his right foot at the end of Spring Training, there was little to be concerned about. He had slugged a Spring Training-leading eight home runs while batting .451 with 15 RBI. But through his first 19 games of the regular season, Bird was batting .100, and when he was placed on the 600day DL due to a damaged os trigonum that would require surgery. 103 games later, Bird was helping lead the Yankees to the Wild Card before being one of the more consistent Yankee hitters in the postseason.
Leading into the 2018 season, the hope was that Bird could put the injuries behind him and be the next one to take the step towards stardom. But an additional surgery was required at the end of Spring Training due to a coin-sized calcium deposit in the same ankle he had gotten surgery on the year before. This raised serious concern about Bird’s durability, some linking him to the similar oft-injured Yankee first baseman Nick Johnson as someone with a ton of potential but never able to stay on the field.
Time to take this opportunity and fly
Bird was a major component in the Yankees’ postseason run to Game 7 of the ALCS. His seventh-inning game-winning shot off Andrew Miller against the Cleveland Indians had bought himself some time with Yankee fans and their growing impatience with him. But it’s time to see Bird reach his full potential, a potential that has had many experts regarding him as the Yankees best offensive talent before the sudden emergence of Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge.
When healthy, Bird can hit. His line drive approach with a level and fluid swing not only makes him a power alley threat, but his ability to loft the ball into the right-field seats at Yankee Stadium could put him within reach of 30 home runs in a full season. With the acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton, Bird can provide serious diversity to the top half of the lineup by breaking apart three consecutive right-handed bats between Judge, Stanton, and Sanchez, without sacrificing the traditional power slots of the third, fourth, or fifth spots in the lineup.
Bird also has a keen eye of the strike zone, very much similar to Judge where he can work a walk when necessary and pass the baton to the next guy in the lineup. More traffic on the bases means more run-scoring opportunities, and while the Yankees have been short of opportunity, the possibility that such a dynamic lineup is only getting better is both ridiculous and kind of scary.
No one wants to see Bird succeed more than Bird himself. He's often the overlooked homegrown talent that marked the turnaround and revival of the franchise, and while players like Judge and Sanchez seem to have taken the reins, Bird can still be a very important piece of what many people are expecting to be the next Core Four.
The Yankees are closing in on full strength, and baseballs everywhere should know the Bird is still the word.
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