TAMPA, Fla. -- Once viewed as the Yankees' first baseman of the future, Greg Bird said that he had no issue when general manager Brian Cashman recently said that Luke Voit now holds "a leg up" in that battle. After several injury-plagued seasons, Bird is embracing that new role as
TAMPA, Fla. -- Once viewed as the Yankees' first baseman of the future, Greg Bird said that he had no issue when general manager Brian Cashman recently said that Luke Voit now holds "a leg up" in that battle. After several injury-plagued seasons, Bird is embracing that new role as an underdog.
"I love challenges," Bird said. "[Voit] obviously came up and was a huge part of our success, so that's awesome, but I like challenges. It'll be a fun spring, for sure."
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
Bird has been working out alongside Voit at the Yankees' Minor League complex for about a week, following an offseason in which the 26-year-old Bird said he took about two months off to allow his body to return to full strength.
After a promising debut in 2015, Bird lost all of '16 to injury and played in just 48 games for the Yankees the next year. He also began '18 on the injured list, recovering from surgery to remove a small spur from the outside of his right ankle.
"I'm just looking forward to playing again, really," Bird said. "I've been working out all January here, and it's been great. I'm just looking forward to playing, really. It's going to be fun. It's been fun seeing all the guys, and seeing the new guys, too."
Bird returned from the injured list in late May but struggled offensively, batting .199 with 11 homers and 38 RBIs in 82 games. The Yankees' late-July acquisition of Voit effectively ended Bird's season; after Voit's second promotion to the Majors on Aug. 21, Bird logged just 35 at-bats.
Bird said he is "very confident" that he will return to the form that once prompted the Yankees' decision-makers to list him among their most promising talents.
"I was able to have a normal offseason," he said. "I'm just in a place where I want to be."
It has been six years since the fanfare of Masahiro Tanaka's first morning in Yankees camp, when the right-hander arrived from Japan as a prized $155 million addition to the rotation. Then 25, Tanaka easily became one of the most alluring attractions in the Grapefruit League.
"I don't necessarily feel like I'm a veteran, nor like a rookie or a young pitcher," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "When you look at it, it is my sixth year, and from 2014 when I joined the team, there's only a handful of guys that are still here. So that kind of tells me how long I've been here."
Tanaka applauded the acquisition of left-hander James Paxton, saying it makes the Yankees a better team. Asked whether he believes his club is now the favorite in the American League East, Tanaka replied, "That's where we want to be, for sure. Boston had the upper hand last season, but hopefully we'll get together as a team and take that spot this year."
After going 12-6 with a 3.75 ERA in 27 starts last season, Tanaka expects to pull his weight. He said he was able to work out in a warmer climate this offseason, and as such, Tanaka's throwing program is ahead of schedule.
"I know that all the other guys are going to perform," he said. "For me, I have to go in there and do my job. That's the mentality that I have right now."
It's almost here
The focus will shift across Dale Mabry Highway on Wednesday morning, as Yankees pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to George M. Steinbrenner Field. Manager Aaron Boone is scheduled to hold his first press conference of the spring at 1:30 p.m. ET.
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.