A top player in the farm system that was deemed “untouchable” by GM Brian Cashman, Bird made his much anticipated MLB debut in August of 2015 after starting first baseman Mark Teixeira broke a bone in his leg. While the youngster did impress in the minor leagues, making the transition to the bigs at such a young age (he was 22 at the time) had many questioning the promotion.
Fortunately for the Yankees, Bird relished the opportunity.
Fully entrenched as the starter, Bird played in 46 games and fit right in. His slash line of .261/.343/.529 along with 11 home runs, 31 runs batted in, and nine doubles helped the organization reach the postseason for the first time since 2012. Bird’s defense was better than advertised and his smooth, long left-handed swing complemented the dimensions of Yankee Stadium to a tee.
More importantly, however, was the fact that Bird’s talents manifested on the grand stage. Not only did he fill in adequately but he confirmed the thoughts that he was the heir apparent at the first base.
With a combination of Teixeira’s contract set to expire and his inability to stay healthy, Bird was expected to be an integral part of the 25-man roster. Unfortunately, a lingering shoulder issue turned into a labrum tear and required surgery, thus sidelining the up-and-comer for the duration of last season. While it’s hard to believe that Bird would have been the difference between trading away assets and making the postseason in 2016, it would’ve been a great experience to receive everyday at-bats — especially with all of the focus shifted to the Baby Bombers.
Bird was able to get back onto the playing field in time for the Arizona Fall League. While teammates Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, James Kaprielian, and Dillon Tate were shining, the first baseman struggled in his first taste of action in months. Bird hit just .215 with an even .700 OPS in winter ball as scouts noticed that his bat speed had taken a hit.
That, however, can be attributed to rust. With the AFL, too, in the rearview mirror, all sights are set on the 2017 campaign.
And if the Yankees are going to compete, it’s because Bird is one of the driving forces of the offense.
Carlos Beltran was traded at last year’s deadline. Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are retired. Brian McCann was shipped from the Bronx earlier this offseason. A large chunk of offensive production is gone.
In their place is a combination of veterans and youngsters that will have to pick up the slack. Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro were the first double play duo in Yankees history to hit 20+ home runs each, and the hope is that they can replicate those numbers in 2017. Matt Holliday should benefit from being a full-time DH. Aaron Judge showed promise as a premier power threat, while the front office and fan base hopes Gary Sanchez can come close to looking like the player he was in his debut season.
And then there’s Bird. While he was never a power hitter (he hit a career-high 20 home runs in A-ball), his aforementioned swing is tailor-made for Yankee Stadium and he will definitely be taking advantage of the short porch out in right field. Even though power isn’t his biggest asset, Bird is certainly a run producer and has been noted as a doubles machine. If all goes according to plan, he has the potential to be a 25+ home run, 90 RBI player while being protected by the likes of Holliday and Sanchez.
As 2016 was supposed to be, 2017 will be a huge year for Bird. On one hand, his shoulder issues could continue to persist, hampering his production and growth. But on the other, he can take his first real step to becoming the next middle-of-the-order first baseman in the Bronx, following the footsteps that started with Don Mattingly, shifted to Tino Martinez, transitioned to Jason Giambi, and was handed over to Teixeira.
It isn’t known what will take place, but the Yankees are hoping it’s the latter.
And if Bird does become the player many think he can be, don’t be surprised if the organization competes for a postseason berth.