BRADENTON, Fla. — Greg Bird is just 24 years old and has less than two months to show on his big-league resume. Still, his hot start this month (Monday’s 0-for-3 in a 13-1 loss to the Pirates notwithstanding) has Bird’s smooth swing and bat control drawing some favorable comparisons.
To John Olerud, for one.
“Yeah,” Joe Girardi said Monday morning when that name was mentioned.
The Yankees certainly would sign up for Bird’s career panning out like Olerud’s. The lefthanded-hitting first baseman spent 17 years in the majors, including three with the Mets and one with the Yankees, and produced a .295/.398/.465 slash line from 1989-2005. Olerud, a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner, had 2,239 hits, including 255 homers.
“I can see it,” an opposing team executive said of the Bird-Olerud comparison. “But for me, looking at the bat control, he’s more Wade Boggs. Can hit to all fields . . . but with more power.”
No one, of course, is predicting that Bird’s start in spring training — a .375/.474/1.063 slash line with three homers and two doubles in seven games — will lead to a career to match Olerud’s or Hall of Famer Boggs’. It’s a matter of longtime baseball people seeing similarities in approach between a young player and Olerud and Boggs when they were young.
When Girardi was asked what in Bird’s swing stands out, he said: “It’s quiet, really quiet. When you watch him swing, it’s very relaxed. He’s got a very good idea. You don’t really see him chase a lot of pitches out of the zone. And he hits to all fields.”
A National League scout who has watched Bird since he was with Double-A Trenton in 2014 said he not only hits to all fields but also has power there. “I think in [Yankee Stadium], he can be a 30-home run guy,” the scout said. “He has power the other way.”
A talent evaluator from an opposing American League team said Bird showed that kind of ability in the minors.
“He’s always been a good hitter,” the evaluator said. “He’d lay off the off-speed and he could hit the off-speed. He could catch up to any fastball . . . You don’t see the power every day and you don’t see the power matched up with the hitting ability in [the minors]. If he plays 150 [games], he can hit 30.”
Bird missed all of 2016 because of shoulder surgery, and continued health will be the primary factor in how many games he plays and how many chances he gets against lefthanders.
The Yankees signed Chris Carter to a one-year, $3.5-million deal to be a righthanded-hitting option against lefty starters, but Girardi hinted Monday that might not necessarily be the case.
Especially if Bird stays hot.
“We signed Chris Carter to help fill that role, but we’ll just see,” Girardi said. “As I told Chris, his role’s going to depend a lot on Greg Bird and how well he’s swinging against lefthanders.
“So we’ll just have to see. He’s a really good player, Greg Bird. Chris Carter had a really good year [41 homers]. So things have a way of ironing themselves out.”