Bird Watch: Yankees Prospect Poised for Late Season Breakout
Ah, late August 1998. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were doping up to save baseball. Bill Clinton and his penchant for staining blue dresses dominated the news. The song “The Boy Is Mine” from Brandy and Monica was nearing its 13-week run as the number one single in the country. And someone had to be concocting the idea of satellite radio in order to save the ears of most of us who were over the age of 19.
(What was worse? That song or the one which followed it, Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing,” which spent a month atop the list? Seriously, when my faith in the world is shaken, I think of the miracle of apps that free us from the nails on a chalkboard-like stuff that passes for popular music today. It’s also at this point that I now feel old, but I digress....)
It was also around this time 17 years ago that the Yankees, who had all but locked up the American League East, brought up a player named Shane Spencer to help give the regular outfielders a day or two of rest. What Spencer did, however, was produce the kind of late season run that carried more than one Fantasy team to the Promised Land that the Yanks themselves eventually reached less than two months later.
From late August on, Spencer batted .407 with ten homers and 21 RBIs in 54 at-bats, while producing an inhuman 1.581 OPS. One would tend to venture that a meh-like investment of FAAB money or a glancing “I do need an outfielder, so why not him?” play led to some owners naming their first child after Spencer or taking the time to praise him in an AOL baseball chat room.
[caption id="attachment_96902" align="alignright" width="300"] Yankees 1B prospect Greg Bird is slugging his way into a bigger role. Photo Credit: Arturo Pardavila III/Flickr[/caption]
All of this leads us to Greg Bird, whose first 18 ABs have led to either a sense of deja vu or just an excuse to celebrate Spencer. After Bird’s two-homer, four-RBI outing on Wednesday night, the waiver wire world needs an answer to this question.
The Yankees’ fourth-ranked prospect swung a pretty loud bat in Triple-A to the slash line tune of .301/.353/.500, which led to his call to the bigs a week ago. With Mark Teixeira banged up with a bone bruise, Bird debuted in the starting lineup. While he needed a brief adjustment period, he’s now on the radar screens of most Fantasy owners following a three-game series against the Twins in which Bird went 5 for 9 with those two homers, five RBIs and four runs scored.
Bird has seen an equally rapid rise in his ownership, as he went from a mere 0.3 percent mark to his current nine percent, a number I feel can continue to climb, especially if Teixeira is sidelined for an extended period. As a lefty hitter who calls Yankees Stadium home, Bird’s power should translate well. While his brief time up offers a scant sample, you have to feel good about his 61.5 percent fly ball rate. Bird is highly unlikely to maintain that pace, his 15.4 percent line drive numbers should also climb, while the fly balls settle into a more normal rate.
Another reason to feel optimistic about pursuing Bird: in the 70 pitches he has seen entering Thursday, he’s taking balls at a 40 percent mark, which is an extension of his solid minor league .356 OBP this season. He should be able to keep his patience at the plate, even when pitchers get a second opportunity at him. Bird’s isolated power stands a chance of improving upon the .193 mark he had in the minors, which makes him not only an intriguing pickup right now, but also a strong play in 2016 drafts/auctions.
I can see Bird as a consistent .275 hitter with 25-30 homers and 90-plus RBIs once he settles into a 1B/DH role. Those numbers are kind of conservative, especially considering he plays in Yankees Stadium. However, Bird represents an opportunity for Fantasy owners to perhaps catch another late season call up who plays like anything but a fresh face.
The season is winding down, yet the wire is still filled with useful sources of help:
Eugenio Suarez, SS, Reds: I mentioned Suarez here a few weeks ago, when his ownership hovered around six percent after replacing the injured Zack Cozart in the lineup. He’s now at 17 percent ownership in polled leagues, batting .297 with eight homers, 31 RBIs and three steals, while going .290-3-8 with a .898 OPS this month. His power is legit, and once he continues to improve his plate discipline, Suarez is going to emerge as a solid second-tier option at the position if he enters next season with the starting job. For now, he’s a very good filler for the always tricky middle infield spots.
Travis Shaw, 1B/3B, Red Sox: He just won’t stop raking. Go figure. Shaw was batting .249/.318/.356 when the Sox called him up, yet, he’s at .369/.408/.677 over 23 games entering Thursday. He’s already exceeded the five homers he amassed in 322 plate appearances in Triple-A, and his .308 isolated power average is nearly three times higher than it was in Pawtucket. Shaw is now at 16 percent ownership in polled leagues, a 13 percentage point climb over the past week. The Sox have no plans to take him out of the lineup, so owners would be wise to benefit from Shaw’s torrid pace before the eventual drop occurs.
Bruce Rondon, RP, Tigers: Keep a close eye on Detroit’s ninth inning Heat Miser, as the Tigers appear committed to letting Rondon grow into the position. He’s sporting a passing grade this month, saving two of his three opportunities while striking out 10 batters in 6.1 innings. Opponents are batting just .136 off him in August, a huge improvement from the .356 clip he had allowed in July. Rondon is owned in 18 percent of polled leagues. His 10.2 percent walk rate is a mild concern, but it’s worth living with if he continues to blow away batters at his current 33 percent rate. Keeper/dynasty league owners may want to acquire Rondon before he carries this momentum into next season.
Raisel Iglesias, SP, Reds: Just as relations between the U.S. and Cuba has improved, the relationship between National League hitters and one of Cuba’s favorite sons has been unfavorable, as Iglesias has allowed just six earned runs over his last four starts. He’s become more confident since returning from a brief spell in the minors, as Iglesias has a 2.89 ERA since the break ,while limiting hitters to a mere .188 average. He’s now averaging 8.44 K/9 and his 2.04 BB/9 is a considerable drop from where it was when he was sent down. He’s owned in more than 19 percent of polled leagues, a number that will continue to climb down the stretch. Iglesias can not only help you now, he’s also a potential breakout candidate for next season.
Kevin Jepsen, RP, Twins: Glen Perkins’ neck is a pain for his Fantasy owners, who are uncertain about his return. In the meantime, Jepsen, who briefly held the closer’s role with the Rays earlier in the season, has the chance to fill the void while the Twins struggle to remain in the wild card chase. Jepsen has not allowed a run in eight appearances since August 2, while recording two holds in that span. Owned in 13 percent of polled leagues, Jepsen isn’t much of strikeout artist, but he knows how to get batters out, which is all those of you scrapping for saves need to know.
Derek Holland, SP, Rangers: Like we mentioned last week, the latter days of Fantasy baseball season make us do things we normally wouldn’t do, such as suggesting that a Rangers starter can help you. Enter Holland, who put together a solid start against the Mariners on Wednesday, marking his first appearance since April 10. If (and that’s a big if) Holland’s shoulder can avoid the trainer’s table, he’s a good, steady arm that is already owned in 16 percent of polled leagues. Holland is a high-risk play. He has made just seven appearances since the start of the 2014 season, so tread carefully when considering him.
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