New York Yankees Hope to See Greg Bird Soar in 2017

Feb 28, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Greg Bird (33) smiles as he works out prior to their game against the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 28, 2017; Fort Myers, FL, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Greg Bird (33) smiles as he works out prior to their game against the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

A strong showing this spring has the Yankees even more excited about Greg Bird. But what can they realistically expect from the young first baseman in 2017?

After spending the entire 2016 season on the sidelines in the wake of shoulder surgery, the New York Yankees expected there would be some rust when Greg Bird suited up for the Arizona Fall League. True enough, he struggled to a .203/.338/.350 slash line over 32 games, though he did manage a pair of home runs and 19 RBI.

How much time would Bird need to truly get back into form? Would he be ready to handle the everyday first base duties from Opening Day onward? The Yankees were concerned enough that they took a flyer on Chris Carter just prior to the start of spring training. A little insurance with 40-homer potential, if you will.

Bird gave the Yanks a tantalizing glimpse of his capabilities over the final two months of the 2015 campaign, making his season-erasing injury a few months later all the more frustrating. In 178 plate appearances, he slashed .261/.343/.529 while knocking 11 homers and driving in 31 runs. With Mark Teixeira on the downside of his career, it appeared that Bird would be wresting control of the starting first base job sooner rather than later.

Over a year later, Teixeira is retired and first base is Bird’s for the taking. Much to the Yankees’ delight, any rust Bird experienced while returning from his extended lay-off appears to have been shrugged off since his AFL stint. Bird has been on a tear this spring, hitting a monster .452/.514/1.065 with four home runs, five doubles and a triple in 13 games.

Bird’s home run total is tied for sixth among all spring training participants. Bryce Harper leads with six long balls, while four players are knotted at five. For a youngster with fewer than 50 games of major league experience, that’s not a bad leaderboard to find yourself on, even if it is just spring training.

Naturally, Bird’s performance over the past few weeks has Yankees fans quite excited about a player they were already eagerly anticipating. But should those expectations be tempered? Just what exactly should we expect to see from Bird in 2017?

As a lefty power hitter in Yankee Stadium, it’s hard not to wonder how many home runs Bird might hit in a full season. His rapid pace at the end of 2015 and this spring seems to inflate those predictions with every ball that leaves the park. However, Bird wasn’t exactly the most prodigious slugger in the minor leagues, never belting more than 20 in a year, which he did for Class A Charleston in 2013. He managed 14 the following year between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

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During his 2015 big league cameo, Bird hit more than half of his balls in play into the air. Just over 20 percent of those went for home runs. While it’s not unreasonable he could maintain that kind of HR/FB ratio in an accommodating home ballpark, that fly ball rate is likely to regress, which might slow his home run output.

Somewhere around 20-25 home runs seems a safe estimate for Bird in 2017, and that’s about where Steamer, ZiPs and other projections have pegged him. Of course, if things go well and he gets comfortable quickly, he could certainly eclipse that range.

After Gary Sanchez‘s meteoric rise, along with the promising displays from young players like Bird and Gleyber Torres this spring, Yankees fans might be expecting all their top prospects to turn into perennial All-Stars. However, it’s important to note there will still be growing pains and bumps in the road for all of these players. The talent is there, but nothing is guaranteed. In the case of Bird, this is still a guy who missed all of last year at a crucial point in his development.

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That said, Bird should at least provide the Yanks more than the .673 OPS they got from the first base position in 2016. (Only the Nationals were worse.) The best thing he can do in the early going is minimize the need for Carter or even Matt Holliday to receive playing time at first base. A healthy season with some positive strides is the primary goal here.

What are your expectations for Greg Bird in 2017? Sound off in the comment section below.