Baby Bombers 2013 MVPs: Charleston
Still, the ‘Dogs were perhaps the easiest affiliate to find an MVP for, because first baseman Greg Bird had one of the best seasons for a Baby Bomber in a long time – if not ever.
Bird, who was drafted in the fifth round in 2011 as a catcher, suffered a series of back injuries in his first two seasons that forced him to move out from behind the plate; undaunted, he switched to first base when he was healthy in 2012 and earned an invite to Major League camp this past spring to learn the ropes alongside Mark Teixeira.
Little did he, or anyone, know that his invite was the beginning of a campaign that will go down in Yankees Minor League history.
"It was a great experience, just to see how those guys go about their business and see their work ethic and consistency," Bird said of Spring Training, and that learning certainly translated to the test of the regular season.
Bird played a team-leading 130 games with the RiverDogs, posting a .288/.428/.511 slash line with 20 home runs, 84 RBI, 84 runs, 36 doubles, three triples, and 107 walks – an all-around performance that made him a shining light in an otherwise chaotic season.
With those totals, Bird led the South Atlantic League (and almost all of Minor League Baseball) in walks and placed second in RBI and OPS, fifth in doubles, and tied for fifth in homers; his power numbers overall were second to only Peter O’Brien (who split the year between Tampa and Charleston), and if Bird moves up to Tampa to join O’Brien next year, Luis Sojo will have one of the best middle-of-the-order one-two punches.
First base is indeed a loaded position in the Yankees system; Rey Nunez spent a lot of time at DH in Charleston while playing with Bird, Saxon Butler and Matt Snyder (Tampa) and Kyle Roller (Trenton) are up ahead, and of course, Teixeira has the job locked down in the Bronx – but as Bird said in Spring Training, that depth just drives him even harder to succeed.
Of his first “full” pro season, Bird also said back in March that "I need to stay focused throughout the ups and downs, ride out the bumps and have a good year, and we'll go from there."
As Yankees fans saw with Tyler Austin in 2012, one huge Minor League system can put a previously-unheralded player right in the middle of the prospect map – and based on how Bird performed in 2013, there’s a good chance that where he “goes from there” is the fast track to becoming a household name.
As far as our Cy Young for the RiverDogs goes, this honor was a little tougher to decide on. To wit: Gabriel Encinas (0.77 ERA in seven starts) was dominant early but missed most of the season with an arm injury; Dietrich Enns (4-1, 0.61 ERA in 19 games), Rafael De Paula (6-2, 2.94 ERA, 96 K in 64.1 IP over 13 starts), and Ben Paullus (6-3, 2.54 ERA, nine saves in 32 games) were all All-Stars, but were all bumped to Tampa in June and all struggled there; and team wins/innings leader Even Rutckyj (10-9) had a 5.03 ERA and a WHIP of 1.59.
So, all that considered, we’ve given our honorable mention pitcher MVP Award to RHP Brett Gerritse, who was 8-7 with a 3.56 ERA in 30 games (nine starts), led the team with 108 strikeouts, and did so with a K:BB ratio of almost 3.5:1 (108 strikeouts against 31 walks). Gerritse is one of four pitchers headed to the Arizona Fall League, and if he continues to build on a solid regular season, he should finally move past Charleston – where he spent the last two-plus seasons – and begin 2014 in Tampa.