Looking for comps for Yankees prospect Greg Bird

Yankees first base prospect Greg Bird had an excellent year in 2013, his first full season as a pro. After missing nearly all of 2012 due to injury, he really broke out in class-A Charleston. Overall, he posted a .288/.428/.511 triple slash. He spent the entire year in the Sally League, the lowest level of full-season ball, where he was the best hitter in the league by wRC+. Bird hit for a good amount of power, but what stands out most of all is his 19% walk rate. Very rarely do we see a player show so much patience at such a young age. In the last four years, no player under 21  has recorded a higher walk rate in full season ball. In case you were wondering, Pittsburgh’s Jaff Decker (then in the Padres organization) at age 19 was the last to top Bird’s mark.

The one fly in the ointment for Bird last year were the strikeouts. His 23% strikeout rate wasn’t terrible, but was a bit north of the league average of 21.6%. Still, Bird’s 2013 stat line looks promising — a good amount of power, not a ton of strikeouts, and walks up the wazoo. Yet, the list of players who’ve put up similar stats in the Sally league over the last couple of decades leaves a lot to be desired.

 

Bird

Oakland Catcher Derek Norris is the only one on the list who even resembles a major league regular, and even he would probably be replacement-level-ish he were a first basemen. The only other player with big league experience is Max Ramirez, who had a couple of cups of coffee with the Rangers a few years back, but never stuck. The balance have topped out at various levels of the minor leagues. The jury’s obviously still out on the 2012 crew of Drew Robinson, Matt Skole, and Brenden Webb, but for what it’s worth, none of the trio fared all that well last year in high-A last year. The collective demise of these players started immediately — virtually every one of the twelve failed to live up to their Sally league dominance the following year. The average line of .272/.410/.493 turned into a much less impressive .253/.373/.428:

Bird2

Most strikingly, these players’ walk rates dipped by more than four percentage points on average. This isn’t all that surprising. The Sally League is filled with 19 and 20 year-old pitchers who have little idea where the ball is going. A batter could probably compile a decent amount of walks by simply not swinging. But when facing off against slightly more polished pitchers, that uber-patient approach may not be quite as effective.

Of course, there’s more to a player than his stat line. Bird’s generally regarded as one of the best eight or ten prospects in the Yankees’ organization, so it seems that people within the game are fans of his offensive potential.  Yet the same could have been said about most of the guys on the list above. Only three of those players were drafted after the seventh round (Bird was taken in the fifth) and three even appeared in Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list, which can’t be said about Bird, who hasn’t graced any top 100 list that I’ve seen.

Bird will head to high-A Tampa this year where he will face off against more advanced pitching and play in the more cavernous George M. Steinbrenner Field. Odds are, Bird won’t replicate his 2013 numbers, but it’ll be interesting to see just how far his numbers fall. He’s done nothing but rake so far, but as a first baseman, he’ll need to rely on his bat to carry him from here on in. Bird may have tore up low-A ball, but he still has a long path ahead of him before he becomes big league contributor — and history suggests the odds are against him ever making it.

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7 Responses to Looking for comps for Yankees prospect Greg Bird

  1. losealot101 says:

    jaff decker had an obp of .233 for the padres last year!

  2. David Curry says:

    Wow, great article Chris. I’ve been following Greg Bird for a while now, as I collect bowman chrome autograph cards, and flip them for profit..You may have just saved me some money. Basically, it looks like pretty much everything is riding on this season for Greg Bird. If he repeats what he did, or even does better, he is more then likely going to be a stud for the Yankees.. It looks like the odds of this are very slim. The deck is stacked against him. I checked out some of those other players you listed, and they even had more hr’s…It will be extremely interesting to see what Bird does this season. One factor you didn’t take into effect was the uni-brow. That has gone a long way for the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans Anthony Davis. Let’s not down play the power of the uni-brow.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks for reading, David — glad you enjoyed it. I’ll be repeating this analysis for all of the Yankees’ top prospects before the season starts if you want to check back in the next couple of weeks. As far as the uni-brow goes… Sure, it’s worked for Davis, but basketball’s a completely different sport. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any uni-brow’d baseball players, so I’m not sure if that power also applies to baseball.

  3. David Curry says:

    Chris, I looked a little deeper into the numbers. First of all, one would have to remove all of the 22 year old players from the list immediately. I don’t think it’s really fair to compare a player that is 22 in low A, to a 20 year old. That’s half of the list right there. In fact most would say even 1 year of development is huge, so then remove the 21 year olds. Now you are just left with 4 players. Then looking closer at the stats, the only one that really compares to Bird is Derek Norris. Derek started the majority of the A’s games last year as catcher. Of course Bird could not get away with the numbers Norris had at first base. One thing is certain, this year is extremely important for Greg Bird. Even if he rakes in high A, doesn’t mean he will get by double A. I think we can both agree, if he repeats what he did, look for him to be a top 100 prospect come 2015….

    • Chris says:

      That’s a very fair criticism and is something I thought of as well. Since Bird had such a unique stat line, I was trying to cast a relatively broad net, which may not have been appropriate. I’ve already refined the methodology that I’m using to go through the Yankees’ top prospects. It will give the top 10 player comps within one year of the player’s age (19-21 in Bird’s case). I plan to post those comps next week (including another on Bird) after i finish my series on 2014 roster projections. I’d also be happy to run this analysis for any of the Yankees’ minor leaguers, so let me know if you have any requests.

      • David Curry says:

        Chris what is wrong with Greg Bird? Back strain? When is he supposed to start the season?

      • Chris says:

        Yeah he suffered some sort of back injury in spring training. There wasn’t much news about it, but my understanding was that wasn’t too serious. I haven’t heard any updates on Bird in a few weeks though, so not sure what’s going on there. Not good to see more back problems from someone so young. Remember, it was a back injury that forced him to miss all of 2012 and move from catcher to first base.

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