After over twenty years of stability at first base in the Bronx, there is some uncertainty surrounding the position this year. It has felt as though first base has always been staple of offensive production for the New York Yankees.
Each player has bled into the next as the 1980s and first half of the 1990s had Don Mattingly at first. The second half of the 1990s into the early 2000s had Tino Martinez. From 2002 to 2008, Jason Giambi was a staple at first base and from 2009 until just last year, Mark Teixeira was manning the position.
There will be a new face pickin’ it at first this year for the Bombers and his name is Greg Bird.
Bird got his first taste of the Majors back in 2015 and he excited the team and the fan base with his talent. Teixeira was having a vintage Tex season, mashing baseballs left and right before he fouled a ball off of his leg and prematurely ended his season. Bird came up and continued where Tex left off.
Bird hit 11 home runs and drove in 31 runs in his 46 games. That came out to a .529 slugging percentage and a .871 OPS. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the 162 game average of Bird’s performance would amount to 39 home runs and 109 RBI. On top of that offensive production, his defense was stellar, making his replacement of Teixeira even smoother. Of course that was just a small sample size, but Bird showed promise that Yankee fans had not seen in some time. He was the 2015 version of Gary Sanchez, albeit much more human than the super human catcher, and the first of these Baby Bombers to become known in the Bronx.
Bird had some shoulder problems while he was in the minors and they resurfaced in the 2015-2016 offseason. He was diagnosed with a torn labrum and the injury required surgery. Bird missed the entire 2016 season, so we weren’t able to see him build on his exciting rookie campaign. Teixeira had his own injury hampered season and decided that 2016 would be his last. With that decision, Bird is the presumed starter at first base for 2017.
Everyone will be chirping about Bird this summer in New York if his hot start to Spring Training is indicative of what’s to come in the regular season. He has been white hot out of the gate, with four extra base hits in nine at-bats thus far. He smashed two doubles in Monday’s action against the Orioles and followed it up by clobbering two homers against the Red Sox on Tuesday. This is great news and should quell any concern surrounding the recovery of his shoulder after missing all of last season. Of his four hits his second home run may be the most encouraging of them all, as it came against a southpaw and was driven to left-center field. The ability for a hitter to go the other way is the sign of a complete hitter, especially featuring a lefty on lefty match up where the pitcher usually holds the advantage.
RECAP: Sanchez, Carter and Bird (twice) all go deep. #NYYSpring
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) February 28, 2017
Bird has made some mental errors on the base paths early in camp, but the mental rust will go away with more action on the field. The bottom line is that Bird seems to be one of those guys who can roll out of bed and hit. An extended camp thanks to the World Baseball Classic will also provide some valuable extra at-bats and innings for the Baby Bomber, who hopes to nestle in at first base for years to come.