There are times when Charleston hitting coach P.J. Pilittere forgets that RiverDogs first baseman Greg Bird is still a kid.
The way that Bird carries himself when he comes to the ballpark each day makes most observers believe he’s a veteran and not a 20-year-old playing in his first full professional season.
His business-like approach to the game has won Bird many admirers throughout the Yankees organization, especially Pilittere.
“Greg is mature beyond his years,” Pilittere said. “His preparation and the way he goes about his business on and off the field is off the charts. Greg is such an intelligent kid and he carries himself like a guy who’s been in the big leagues for five or six years. It’s easy to forget he’s only 20.”
Three months into his first full season, Bird is hitting .290 with six home runs and 41 RBIs.
Bird has demonstrated a patience at the plate that few players his age can equal.
“Every at-bat is a quality at-bat,” Pilittere said. “It’s hard to believe he’s only hitting .290 right now because every at-bat is very professional and everything he hits, he hits hard somewhere.”
As good as Bird has been with the RiverDogs, he’s still not close to playing at Yankee Stadium. But that could be just a matter of time.
“Like anyone who is 20 years old, it’s about consistency,” Pilittere said. “Greg doesn’t need to try to do too much and put the team on his back. He needs to be himself. Regardless of where we play or what the weather is, he needs to be Greg Bird and not someone else. Greg Bird is plenty good enough.”
Bird wasn’t a lock to sign with the Yankees after his senior season at Grandview High School in Aurora, Colo. He had verbally committed to play at Arkansas and had planned to sign with the Razorbacks until the Yankees took him in the fifth round of the 2011 Major League Draft.
“I was committed to play for Arkansas,” Bird said. “They played in the SEC, which is one of the best college baseball conferences in the country, and I wanted to get a college education.”
When the Yankees offered Bird a $1.1 million bonus to sign, he decided that college could wait. It was an extraordinary signing bonus for a fifth-round pick. The Yankees top pick that year, RiverDogs third baseman Dante Bichette Jr., was selected in the second round and signed for $750,000.
“My dream has always been to play professionally,” Bird said. “My parents told me when I was making the decision to put the money aside. Take money out of the equation and think about what I truly wanted to do and that really helped. I wanted to play professionally. That was my goal. I know I made the right decision.”
Bird was drafted as a catcher, but with so many quality prospects at that position within the Yankees minor league system, the move to first base seemed like the most logical choice. Bird had played first base in high school and on travel teams.
“It wasn’t like it was a new position for me,” Bird said. “I’d played first plenty of times. When I first started with the Yankees they still had me at catcher, but we kind of decided it wasn’t going to the best position for me, so we made the move to first.”
Pilittere said Bird has developed into a reliable defensive first baseman.
“I think the transition has been seamless,” Pilittere said. “I know he works very hard every day on his defense. He moves his feet well and he’s improved on his range around the bag.”
Two separate injuries limited Bird to just 28 games last summer with the Yankees Gulf Coast League team and in Staten Island. But even during his injury-shortened summer, Bird managed to display the power that made him the Gatorade Colorado High School Player of the Year.
“It was a frustrating year because of the injuries,” Bird said. “There’s really nothing you can do about getting hurt. You’ve just got to stick with your rehab and get healthy.”
Listed at 6-3 and 215 pounds, Pilittere said Bird has room to grow.
“He’s a big boy and he’s going to put on some lean muscle before he’s done,” Pilittere said. “His best baseball is still ahead of him. The balls that he’s driving to the opposite field now are going to be home runs when he’s 23 or 24.”