The crooked numbers Greg Bird has been posting of late look more like those generated on a PlayStation or Xbox. Yet to hear the Charleston first baseman and reigning South Atlantic League Offensive Player of the Week explain the gaudy statistics, there is no magic or hidden strengths associated with his impressive output.
"It's just kind of been the accumulation of the whole year," Bird said. "It's really all about working hard and getting good pitches to hit and putting good wood on them. I'm just trying to get in good counts and stay within myself and put good swings on the ball. It's been working out."
Hickory and Greensboro can attest to that. On July 19, Bird single-handedly beat the Grasshoppers by going 4-for-5 with three home runs and driving in all seven of the RiverDogs' runs in Charleston's 7-5 victory. Two days later at LP Frans Stadium, the first baseman went 3-for-4 and accounted for all of his team's tallies with two runs scored and an RBI in a 3-0 triumph over the Crawdads. Bird then capped the trip to North Carolina by going 3-for-5 with two runs, a homer and two RBIs in an 8-4 win versus Hickory on July 23.
For the season Bird is flying high with a slash line of .289/.411/.518. He has improved on a month-to-month basis, batting .265 in April, .281 in May and .309 in June. Thus far in 18 outings in July, he is pounding pitchers at a .303/.439/.727 clip with eight homers and 20 RBIs. His home run total for the month has eclipsed his output of seven from the first three months combined. He also has moved up among the Sally League leaders, tying for fourth with 172 total bases, ranking fifth with 66 RBIs and pacing the circuit with 66 walks.
"He's been one of our most consistent hitters throughout the whole year," Charleston manager Al Pedrique told the Hickory Daily Record. "He works very hard on his mechanics and his mental approach. He's doing a good job for us, not only against Hickory, but around the league."
Bird landed on the radars of scouts while catching future LSU pitcher Kevin Gausman while both attended Grandview High School in Aurora, Colo. Possessing a sweet swing with good loft from the left side of the plate, Bird's 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame generated plenty of power with visions of even more productivity as he continued to mature. Helping matters was Bird's desire to improve, which led him to the cage at every opportunity.
"It's goes back to when I was little," Bird said. "My mom said I just started hitting when I was in diapers. Growing up, I always enjoyed it. I put in the time and it's fun for me. I love talking about it and I love doing it, which I think helps. When you enjoy what you do, it makes it that much better."
Bird's bat and catching potential led to the New York Yankees selecting him in the fifth round of the 2011 Draft. He signed for a reported $1.1 million, received a quick taste of the Gulf Coast League that summer before splitting the 2012 slate between the GCL and Staten Island in the New York-Penn League. Nagging back pain landed him on the disabled list and limited him to a total of 28 games between the two stops. It also led to a full-time move to first after giving the tools of ignorance a shot at the professional level.
"Playing first has given me more time to focus on hitting," Bird said. "First base is still something I'm working on and that I'm adjusting to, but it's coming along. When you're catching, so much of your time is spent working with pitchers and perfecting your defense. It's been a good transition for me. I played first base growing up, so it hasn't been a huge adjustment. I enjoy it."
Having entered 2013 with only 32 games of experience in pro ball, Bird knew the grind of a full Minor League season would have its effects. Thus far, he has managed the situation well and feels strong as he and the RiverDogs enter the final six weeks of the slate.
"It's been about having a game plan and an approach and sticking to it," Bird said. "It's such a long season and I've never played this many games consecutively. As a result, it's easy to get away from the things you need to do. For me, it's been about going into every day with a plan and riding it out. There's been a learning curve and sometimes you have to learn on the fly. So I'm just trying to learn as much as I can and keep getting better."
Hickory's Edwards dealt: Crawdads pitcher C.J. Edwards did not make his scheduled start on July 22 because he was part of the trade that brought pitcher Matt Garza from the Cubs to the Rangers. The right-handed Edwards owned a 1.83 ERA for Hickory, which ranks as the third-best in franchise history among hurlers with at least 50 innings in a season. When he left the Rangers organization, he was tied for fifth in the Minors in strikeouts with 122 and, of all the pitchers in the Minors who hadn't allowed a home run this season, Edwards had pitched the second most innings with 93 1/3. The Cubs assigned him to Daytona in the Florida State League.
Augusta hit parade: The GreenJackets took their series with Asheville on July 23 by pounding out a season-high 23 hits in a 10-3 victory. Right fielder Chuckie Jones went 4-for-5 to give him seven hits in the last two games, while third baseman Mitch Delfino had four hits in six at-bats, including three doubles and three RBIs.
Power 'Intimidates' Kannapolis: West Virginia extended its winning streak over the Intimidators to 10 games with a doubleheader sweep over Kannapolis on July 23 by scores of 1-0 and 5-1. On July 21, the Power's Josh Bell hit a deep fly ball that right fielder Juan Ramirez dropped with the bases loaded to give West Virginia a 5-4 walkoff victory.