By Ken Davidoff
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Greg Bird hasn’t made it to the major leagues yet — not even to Triple-A, for that matter — yet the Yankees minor-league first baseman enjoyed a taste of big-league exposure earlier this month.
He trended on Twitter.
“I don’t have Twitter. I don’t do any of that,” Bird said Monday, at Salt River Fields, before his Scottsdale Scorpions played the Salt River Rafters in Arizona Fall League action. “But I heard. Later on, people started texting me and stuff.”
The 22-year-old, drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 amateur draft, earned his moment of glory with a mammoth home run in the AFL’s Fall Stars Game on Nov. 1. In the first inning, against Reds right-hander Tim Howard, Bird slammed a shot into the third stage of the batter’s eye in center field here. MLB.com’s Jim Callis, on site for the contest, estimated the shot as “at least 450 feet.”
That Bird hit that shot on the ninth pitch of his at-bat, after falling behind 0-and-2, fouling off four pitches and taking two for balls, underlines his skill set. And it exemplifies why the Yankees hope Bird can lead a group of homegrown impact position players, a development area in which the team has been woefully inadequate.
“Obviously a nice left-handed bat — plate discipline with power,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “He’s been everything we’ve hoped so far since we signed him.”
Bird has been compared by scouts to former Yankees first baseman Nick Johnson, only as a healthier version.
“Yeah, but I think Nick was good with the glove. Bird is an average defender,” Cashman said. “I guess in terms of hitting, it’s probably a fair comp as an offensive side.”
Bird said: “You always hear different things. But I’m just trying to be me.”
In a combined 102 games with Class A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, Bird put up a .271/.376/.472 slash line, totaling 14 home runs in 369 at-bats. In his first 24 games in the hitter-friendly AFL, he tallied a .315/.387/.565 line with six homers in 92 at-bats.
“This has been a big year. It really has,” Bird said. “I think I’ve learned a lot.”
Skilled Yankees minor leaguers are always one major-league crisis away from getting traded to fill a need with a more experienced player. Bird expressed hope he would beat the odds and contribute not just in the major leagues, but in a Yankees uniform.
“It’d be huge,” he said. “I’ve really come to just respect this organization. I grew up in Memphis and then moved to Denver, so I wasn’t around it as much. But now that I’ve been around it, there’s nothing better. There really isn’t. It’s an honor and a privilege every day, and I really take that seriously. I’d want nothing more.”