TAMPA, Fla. -- A once-heralded rising star on the New York Yankees' roster, Greg Bird's 2018 season ended in a way hardly anyone could have seen coming last winter, with him sitting on the bench, and a little-known trade-deadline acquisition stealing his thunder at first base.
As pitchers and catchers begin reporting to the Yankees' spring-training complex this week, an upbeat and self-proclaimed healthier Bird believes he'll soon get back to being the promising player he once was.
"Very confident," said Bird when asked Tuesday about his belief in his oft-battered body. "I was able to have a normal offseason. I'm just in a place where I want to be." Like a number of other Yankees, Bird has spent the past few days going through voluntary workouts at the organization's player development facility across the street from Steinbrenner Field. Position players aren't required to report for spring training until next week.
Bird's demotion in favor of Luke Voit at the end of last season followed weeks of horrid play at the plate and occasional lapses in the field. It also came after Bird spent the season's first two months on the injured list recovering from ankle surgery he had at the end of spring training.
It was during batting practice before a spring training game in Orlando late last March when Bird experienced discomfort that ultimately led to the surgery. It was the second time in as many seasons that he had problems with his right ankle. He also missed significant time in 2016 with a shoulder injury.
Now, Bird contends he's at his healthiest thanks to an altered offseason routine.
"I took some time off," Bird said, noting that he didn't workout at all in November and December. "I got to where I need to be, and then in January, started up like I normally would. It's been great so far.
"I'm looking forward to playing a healthy season, getting out of a healthy spring, and getting out with the guys and going out and playing.
Why did he decide to approach his offseason this way?
"To get healthy," Bird said. "To get back to a point where I could build on what I had. To have a foundation to start with, and to be able to get back to a place where I could be me." All of the lifting, throwing, hitting and defensive work he has done prior to spring training came last month.
While Bird may feel better physically, this will not be an easy spring training for him. He'll be in a legitimate competition with Voit for the starting first base job. Earlier this offseason, general manager Brian Cashman said Voit would enter the spring holding a slight edge at the position.
Bird contends he's fine with having to outwork a teammate for a job.
"I love challenges," Bird said. "He obviously came up and was a huge part of our success, so that's awesome. I like challenges, and it'll be a fun spring for sure." After getting traded to the Yankees from St. Louis in late July, Voit spent nine days with the Bronx Bombers -- going 3-for-16 -- before they sent him to Triple-A. Down on the farm, he worked his way out of that funk.
While playing again in New York the final month and a half of the regular season, Voit led the American Leagues in home runs in that stretch. He finished the season batting .322, Bird at .199.