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2017 Player Profiles: Greg Bird

Coming off a lost season with a major injury, Bird is poised to take over Mark Teixeira’s 1B spot. What can we expect?

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Welcome! If you are reading this shortly after it is posted, you are probably a fantasy baseball nut like me, thinking ahead to ranking and evaluating players for the 2017 season, when the real baseball postseason is still in progress. Even if you are reading this in March as draft preparation, that’s ok. In fact, it is even encouraged!

If you want to catch up on all the previous 2017 player profiles, check out my archive here.

Continuing the theme from my last post about young, inexperienced players poised to take on larger roles in 2017, may I present Greg Bird of the New York...give me a minute...I should know this...Urbanites? Villagers? Manhattans? Let’s go with the New York Pinstripes.

(just some gentle ribbing from a Red Sox fan)

Anywho, Bird looked good in his 2015 debut season, hitting 11 homers in just 178 PA. He was pressed into action after Mark Teixeira, the Pinstripes primary first baseman, went down to injury. In 2016, it looked like Bird might get a lot of starts at first base and DH, but sadly he re-injured his shoulder in February and never got a chance. Instead, Teixeira stayed mostly healthy and got the majority of the playing time at first.

Let’s get to some good news! Teixeira is retired. Done. Gone. Second, Bird’s labrum surgery was a success by all accounts and he is now playing games in the Arizona fall league. These are all good signs. Shoulder injuries can sap power and end careers (just ask Michael Brantley). Bird is young and appears to be healthy, though.

I’m going to try to value him for 2017 by looking at his 2015 stats and his short Fall League performance in 2016, since that’s the most recent information we have.

PA AVG OBP SLG K% BB% SwStr% BABIP HR/FB% FB% Hard% Exit Velocity
2015 178 0.261 0.343 0.529 29.80% 10.70% 11.10% 0.319 20.40% 51.40% 44.80% 93.70

While his MLB experience in 2015 was short, it was also memorable and lined up with his 2015 AAA numbers. His BABIP was a little high for an extreme pull power hitter, but that HR/FB% is not crazy (I would expect 15-18%), so he wasn’t all that “lucky.” He did what many power hitters do: walk a lot, ignore strikeouts, hit lots of fly balls, pull as much as possible, and hit the ball hard when you make contact. He checked all those boxes. Yes, that strikeout rate is a little scary, but his minor league K% in 2015 were well under 20% and his 11.1% whiff rate is more typical of a guy with an average strikeout rate or just above.

Guys with 11-12% swinging strike rates in 2016: Corey Seager, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Jake Lamb, Marcell Ozuna, Eric Hosmer, Jose Abreu, Starlin Castro, and others. That’s a group of good hitters that don’t have major strikeout issues. That’s why I’m not worried about Bird’s strikeouts going forward.

Look at his hard hit% and exit velocity average! That exit velocity was number 5 in baseball in 2015! He was only behind Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Sano, and David Ortiz. How about that company? His hard hit% was #2 among hitters with at least 150 PA, behind only Stanton.

That was all pre-injury, so how does he look now?

Fall League 39 0.235 0.35 0.412 15.4% 12.8% 0

Well, not as good. But, lots of top prospects are down there with him like Eloy Jimenez, Bradley Zimmer, Franklin Barreto, and Ryan McMahon. It’s also a very small sample. The good news is that his plate discipline seems to be excellent. He has four doubles and a triple, so there is still some power there, even without any homers so far.

Oh, and for those wondering (if there are some), a certain former Florida quarterback is dead last in batting average for the AFL with a solid 0.107 on three hits. He also has a 0.143 slugging.

Back to Bird, an early scouting report from Arizona courtesy of Alec Dopp of 2080 Baseball sounds very promising (at least more than his numbers down there):

The 23-year-old has appeared as comfortable at the plate as he did in 2015 when he slugged .529 with 11 HR in 46 games with the Yankees, working the count well and showing selectivity (one strikeout in 14 PA). The bat speed he displayed at the major league level has also been readily noticeable in Arizona, which is a promising sign that the reps he’s getting here in the desert will help him be 100% for spring training competition in March.

Winding this all down, let’s tie up the loose ends. What will he look like in 2017? I am in on Bird. I’m so high on him that I went this entire post without making a bad bird pun. So there. I wouldn’t want to ruffle anyone’

He’s got power, a great walk rate, a strikeout rate that should come down, and encouraging reports that his shoulder looks back to normal. That sounds like a solid fantasy first baseman to me. Sure, Brian McCann may cut into some of his playing time, but I think Bird will handle the vast majority of the work.

My projection: 0.250/0.340/0.470, 27 HR, 70 R, 85 RBI. That would be about what Jose Abreu did this season, for reference. I would rank him #12 among first basemen right now. I think he will be undervalued, out of fear of his shoulder injury, so he should come cheap in drafts and be a very capable first baseman or corner infielder. Tschus!