2017 Fantasy Baseball draft strategy: Greg Bird's Fantasy stock soaring with monster spring
Greg Bird has put any concerns about his shoulder behind him with an incredible spring training run. Chris Towers looks at how the slugger's Fantasy stock is rising.
Most competent major-league players will go through a stretch where they just can’t make an out. In 2016, Max Kepler -- an undoubtedly talented young player who nonetheless was a below-average major-league hitter last season -- had a stretch last summer where he hit .306 with seven home runs in 17 games. He walked nine times and struck out 10 times, and generally looked like he had turned a corner for the Twins.
That would prove to be the peak of his season, as he hit just two homers in his next 50 games, sporting a .209/.274/.277 line with nearly three times as many strikeouts as walks. That stretch showed us what Kepler is capable of when he gets hot, but it didn’t turn out to be a sign of things to come.
Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a hot streak is just a hot streak. Figuring out how to differentiate between a hot streak and something bigger is one of the keys to Fantasy success, and one of the players sparking that question right now is Greg Bird.
When we’ve seen Bird in a Yankees’ uniform, all he’s done is hit. Bird appeared in 46 games in 2015 with the Yankees after being called up, and he hit .261/.343/.529 with 11 homers. He missed all of the 2016 season with a shoulder injury, and it certainly looks now like the Yankees missed quite a bit in that time, because Bird has been one of the best hitters in all of baseball this spring.
Bird crushed two homers off talented Phillies’ righty Vince Velasquez on Wednesday, bringing his spring total to six. He leads all spring players in extra-base hits with 11, and has additionally struck out just eight times in 47 trips to the plate, showing the plate discipline that was his calling card in the minors in addition to the power.
Bird wasn’t really known for his power in the minors, averaging just 20.7 homers per-150 games over parts of five seasons. That’s the bigger sample size, obviously, and it usually makes sense to default to that, but it requires ignoring his two stretches spent facing real major-league pitching. It’s not that hard to write off his spring production as a mere hot streak, but put together with his first taste of the majors, when he produced as a 30-plus homer pace over nearly a third of the season, and it becomes a lot harder to dismiss.
There is one reason to think Bird might be a good bet to outperform his minor-league numbers. Though he may not have huge raw power, Bird’s batted ball approach should play exceptionally well in Yankee Stadium. As a rookie, he put 51.4 percent of his batted balls into the air, and his 41.0 percent of them to his pull side, two traits that line up very well to make him the latest beneficiary of the generous porch out there in right field.
According to MLB.com, Bird has continued to lift the ball consistently, hitting twice as many flyballs as groundballs. In the minors, that mostly translated to doubles power, but every time he’s donned the real pinstripes, he’s looked like a legitimate power threat.
Bird still has to officially beat out Chris Carter for the everyday role at first base, but that looks more and more like a foregone conclusion with every ball he hits over the fence. Carter may still be on the team, there to take on the occasional tricky lefty, but it would be a massive upset if Bird wasn’t getting the vast majority of the playing time at first base for the Yankees this season.
That alone makes Bird draft-worthy. The question now isn’t so much, “Should I draft Greg Bird?” as, “How early is too early?” In two recent mock drafts we’ve done he went in the 18th and 19th rounds. It may be an overreaction, but after watching Bird’s two-homer game Wednesday, that feels too low. He is, to some extent, still an unproven commodity, but even as early as the 15th round, you’re wading around in the Brad Miller, Mike Napoli, Victor Martinez tier, and none of them come into the season without their share of fair questions.
For most of the draft season, Bird has been freely available well later, but that shouldn’t be true anymore. I am looking to add Bird to my queue starting in the 12th round, and I wouldn’t mind pulling the trigger on him around then as a starting corner infielder.
Bird is no sure thing, but Fantasy players love to bet on upside, and all Bird has done since joining the Yankees is show upside. It could end up blowing up in all of our faces, but he seems to have put concerns about his shoulder to rest, and he seems to be the runaway favorite for an everyday job. He is the kind of player worth betting on.
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