TAMPA, Fla. -- There is confidence in Greg Bird's stride as he navigates the pathways between practice fields at the Yankees' spring complex, observes manager Aaron Boone, who believes that the 25-year-old is primed to enjoy a productive -- and full -- season ahead."I definitely sense a presence to him,"
TAMPA, Fla. -- There is confidence in Greg Bird's stride as he navigates the pathways between practice fields at the Yankees' spring complex, observes manager Aaron Boone, who believes that the 25-year-old is primed to enjoy a productive -- and full -- season ahead.
"I definitely sense a presence to him," Boone said Tuesday. "I think he's an impact, middle-of-the-order hitter on a championship-caliber team. When we see him healthy and at his best, I think he's a guy that will be a real option to hit in the middle of our order."
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The Yankees are banking that will be the case, coming off a campaign in which Bird missed 114 games due to a right ankle injury that eventually required surgery. Bird hit eight homers with 25 RBIs after returning from the disabled list in late August, then cracked three more homers in the postseason.
Bird, who also missed all of 2016 while recovering from right labrum surgery, said that his new manager's confidence is an asset.
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"It's an honor for him to say that, but there's a lot of work to be done and I've got to do it," Bird said. "I've got to go out for a full season and be a reliable guy and play. I haven't done it yet, so I've just got to go out and do it consistently for a whole year. That's what I've been working towards. That's what I've always wanted."
Bird's late-season performance solidified the Yankees' belief that they were correct to wait on his recovery, a sequence that began with a foul ball in a late March exhibition against the Phillies and necessitated numerous lengthy visits to medical specialists throughout the United States.
General manager Brian Cashman later revealed that he turned down proposals that would have added a first baseman in advance of the non-waiver Trade Deadline, at one point telling Mets counterpart Sandy Alderson, "I know this guy and I know what he's capable of. He's going to be healthy. He's coming back and he will hit, because that's what he's always done."
"That's huge. I understand that side of the game," Bird said. "I want to be the reliable one. I felt the same way; I was going to come back last year. That was always in the back of my mind. I knew I'd be back. I didn't know when, and I was waiting to find out when. I guess we were on the same page."
Boone believes that Bird's left-handed stroke could be ideal to break up Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the order. Boone has said that Judge or Stanton will hit second, so Bird will be considered in the No. 3 spot, where he started four games last year.
"I think he's a guy that can do that, and justifiably, for a long time," Boone said.
The Yankees are gambling that Bird's injury issues are a thing of the past; behind Bird, Boone sees the depth chart as "a little bit thin." He listed Christopher Austin, Billy McKinney and Jabari Blash among their in-house choices, and backup catcher Austin Romine as an emergency option.
If Bird and Boone have their way, most of those names shouldn't need to be seriously considered. Boone said that Bird is eager to "show the world what he can do," as Bird is hungry to create some separation from the injury-abbreviated lines on the back of his bubble gum card.
"It bothers me, I'm not going to lie," Bird said. "I just want to do it. I want to go out and see how I stack up. This is the best of the best, and you're going to show what you can do. I've just got to go out and do it."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.