TAMPA — When you think of Yankees who hit in the middle of the order for World Series winners, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle quickly come to mind.
Later it was Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez and Bernie Williams. The last time the Yankees won a title in 2009 it was Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui.
Now as the Yankees prepare for a season in which they are legitimate World Series contenders, they are hoping Greg Bird can play a big part in helping what appears to be a loaded lineup.
Despite having played in 94 big league games in the past three seasons — none in 2016 and 48 a year ago — it’s probable the 25-year-old with a left-handed swing built for Yankee Stadium will hit third between Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
“I think he is a middle-of-the-order hitter on a championship team. When we see him healthy and at his best, he will be a guy who will be a real option to hit in the middle of our order,’’ Aaron Boone said Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. “If we desire to split up our righties, I think he is a guy who can do that and justifiably for a long time.’’
Bird appreciated Boone’s words but understands results are required.
“It’s an honor for him to say that, but I have to go out and do it. I understand and I am going to work for it. That’s how I see myself and I know there is work to be done to get there,’’ said Bird, who had a sensational spring training last year ruined by a foul ball off his right ankle in the final week that eventually required surgery in mid-July. “It’s a confidence boost. That’s really nice for him to say, but I have to back it up and really do my job. Go out and do it, that’s the biggest thing. I am not a big say it kind of guy, you got to show it, you got to prove it, you got to do it. That’s the biggest thing.’’
Not only do the Yankees need Bird to stay on the field for his left-handed bat, they don’t have a slam-dunk back-up to replace him at first base if he goes down.
A year ago they used Chris Carter (48 games), Chase Headley (37), Garrett Cooper (13), Matt Holliday (7), Tyler Austin (5), Rob Refsnyder (4), Austin Romine (4) and Ji-Man Choi (4) at first.
All except the right-handed hitting Austin are gone, and since the Yankees didn’t trade for or sign a veteran with first-base experience, Austin is the leading candidate if he makes the 25-man roster. That could be a little tougher after the Yankees added Brandon Drury from the Diamondbacks in a three-team trade Tuesday.
Austin, 26, has experience in right field and first base, but he was hurt before spring training started last year and suffered a hamstring injury in late June that kept him out until Aug. 11. He played in 20 big league games and hit .225.
“Absolutely,’’ Boone said when asked if Austin’s versatility would help him make the club. “That is something we want to see.’’
What won’t be seen is Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton getting fitted for a first baseman’s glove.
“I view those guys as outfielders and that’s where their skill set sets up. I don’t think we want to mess with two elite level players obviously and start moving them around too much,’’ said Boone, who will use the duo in right field, at DH and possibly in left. “I struggle already enough with taking any or both of them out of their comfort zone if we flirt with left field or any other spot out there. It’s an easy call for us to say, ‘That’s not on the table.’ ”
Source : https://nypost.com/2018/02/20/aaron-boone-isnt-shying-away-from-huge-greg-bird-expectations/