The situation: We’re just about two weeks out from the non-waiver trade deadline and the Yankees have seen their big lead in the division dry up faster than a California aquifer. The Bombers find themselves looking up at a deep and talented Blue Jays team. They are also entering a stretch of 16 August consecutive dog-day games. Concerns about an older roster and the desire for a sparkplug have led them to tap first base prospect Greg Bird.
Background: Bird is from Aurora, Colorado, but he’s not the most famous baseball player from his high school class. That would be Orioles right hander Kevin Gausman. Scouts, crosscheckers and all sorts of people with “director” in their titles came in to see Gausman and many also saw qualities to like in Bird. He was committed to Arkansas, but he never made it to campus. The Yankees took him in the fifth round and gave him an over-slot $1.1 million bonus. Bird missed time in the low minors with recurring back problems, but has hit for power and showed an ability to get on base at every stop where he spent any significant time.
Scouting report: While Bird can be a divisive prospect, the selling points are power and patience. Those are two things he supplies in abundance. It’s easy plus raw power that comes without a whole lot of effort. He doesn’t sell out his swing to drive the ball, but he will drop his back shoulder and try to uppercut, at times. A patient, selective approach at the plate puts him in good hitters counts and leads to a strong walk rate. The biggest concern here is that his bat speed isn't plus. Bird will have trouble against good fastballs and velocity. There are definitely holes in his swing, as would be expected with bat speed questions and an uppercut/power swing plane. He compensates somewhat for this with his plate discipline. He also recognizes spin and tracks pitches well. I’d still avoid throwing him too much soft stuff; you don’t try to beat a guy with slider bat speed like that. You have to let him beat your fastball first. Bird is also a bat only player. To his credit, he has soft hands at first base and a good arm for a first baseman. He’s a poor athlete with a history of back issues and he doesn’t run well or cover much ground in the field. There’s a lot of pressure on his bat with this profile. To be fair, these are many of the same concerns evaluators had with Jose Abreu before the White Sox signed him. Patience and power are two things the major leagues as a whole are lacking right now, and this is a swing that’s well suited for Yankee stadium. Bird will do most of his damage to the pull side and onto the short right porch, but will also knock outside pitches to the gap and let it run to Death Valley.
Immediate Big-League Future: Bird isn’t coming up to a well-defined role, but the Yankees will definitely be able to find at-bats for him and get him a taste of the big leagues. Hopefully Joe Girardi will be able to pick some good spots for him to get his feet wet. This is probably a good time to let a young player see what kind of adjustments he’s going to need to make to hit major league arms. Bird is likely headed back down as soon as the team needs an extra arm near the end of this stretch, but Yankees fans will see him again in September for all the same reasons. Bird projects for a bigger role sometime in the next couple seasons. -Al Skorupa
Fantasy Impact: With the Yankees struggling at the plate (scoring six runs in their last five games), in the short term it is at least possible that Greg Bird will get one or two starts in this weekend’s big series against the Toronto Blue Jays. With Alex Rodriguez (six hits in his last 31 at bats) and Mark Teixeira (six hits in his last 33 at bats) both slumping, Joe Girardi might look to cycle Bird in for both hitters to give them a breather as the Yankees head into the stretch run. While adding Bird to the major league roster to give the grizzled veterans some days off now and again down the stretch is a sensible play for the Bombers, it doesn’t put Bird in the most optimal position from a fantasy perspective. Rodriguez and Teixeira have both been healthy this year, and with no signs of an injury at the center of their recent subpar performances, it isn’t certain that Bird gets every day at bats.
Bird’s numbers between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015 (12 home runs, 52 RBI, 1 stolen base, 44 runs, and a .277 batting average in 318 plate appearances) are solid but don’t necessarily speak to a hitter who is going to show up in the majors and mash on Day One. Something to keep in mind is that Bird’s Triple-A numbers were stronger than his Double-A numbers, and after a slow start at Scranton Wilkes-Barre, Bird tore up pitching in the International League. His plate discipline and solid command of the strike zone will serve him well, particularly in the cozy dimensions of Yankee Stadium.
For all of the positives in Bird’s long-term profile, this doesn’t help very much in fantasy leagues. Unless you’re in an AL-only league, the best advice is to stay away entirely unless you are extremely desperate for a corner infielder in a deeper mixed format and need to throw a Hail Mary. AL-only owners can feel free to put up a FAAB bid in the range of $5-10, but it is quite possible that Bird’s best case scenario is 2-3 starts a week, with his worst case scenario being a significant amount of time on the bench or a quick trip back to Triple-A after a few games. If you’re playing matchups in head-to-head leagues, it is worth noting that the Yankees get a steady diet of right-handers over the next couple of weeks, so Bird is unlikely to sit if he does stick because of a left-handed heavy schedule. – Mike Gianella
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