Yankees farmhand Greg Bird has command of the strike zone

Yankees' INF Greg Bird on picture on pitcher Yankees' INF Greg Bird on picture on pitcher day during spring training at George Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida. (Feb. 20, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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CHARLESTON, S.C. -- After being taken by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, Greg Bird was faced with a difficult decision: Sign a pro contract or play ball at the University of Arkansas.

Bird chose to get a jump-start on his professional career, and after a slow beginning, it looks as though he made the right choice.

Through 114 games, Bird is hitting .284 with an on-base percentage of .421, 18 homers and 74 RBIs for the Charleston RiverDogs, the Yankees' Class A affiliate in the South Atlantic League. On Friday, he went 2-for-3 with a towering home run.

"Professional baseball is every day, and my dream has always been to be a professional baseball player and get to the big leagues," Bird said of his decision. "I felt like that was the best situation for me and I just decided to go for it. I thought I was ready."

Bird, 20, spent most of last season in the Gulf Coast League and was called up to short-season Staten Island for the last two weeks.

He battled a back injury most of last season and played in only 28 games. The injury also played a factor in a position switch from catcher to first base in the middle of the season.

"It was kind of mutual," Bird said of the move to the infield. "When they drafted me, they wanted me to try catcher and I wanted to try it, too. We just decided that the best thing for me to do to move forward was to move to first base. I've played there before. It wasn't a huge transition."

Fully recovered, Bird has thrived this season in Charleston.

"He's a hard worker," RiverDogs manager Al Pedrique said. "He has done a lot for this team. He's a true professional on the field, off the field. He knows the areas he needs to improve."

A lefthanded hitter who throws righthanded, Bird has been a tough out in the South Atlantic League.

"Offensively, he's having a good year," Pedrique said. "I know some people talk about the strikeouts [115] but for me personally, it's not a big deal because he also has a lot of walks [a league-leading 91]. The higher he goes, the strike zone is going to be better, the pitches are going to be around the plate more consistently, so he should become a better hitter."

Bird's 17 home runs create optimism that he can have at least average power.

"Only time will tell if he's going to hit for power," Pedrique said, "but I think he's going to be a gap-to-gap hitter, a lot of doubles, a clutch hitter with guys in scoring position. I see him as a guy who will probably hit 15 to 20 home runs in the big leagues. Very smart hitter, very patient."

The transition to first base still is very much a work in progress.

"Defensively, he still has a lot to do," Pedrique said. "This is his first full season playing first base. So far, he has done a decent job. His hands are fine; he just needs to work a lot on movement, work on his range and footwork around the bag."

With the season winding down, Bird is pleased with his results.

"I feel like I've done a good job of sticking with the plan, staying within myself and going out there every day with a consistent approach and being professional," he said. "There's always stuff you can work on. We'll sit down at the end of the year and talk about those things."

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