NEW YORK -- In some ways, Greg Bird was the original Gary Sanchez, joining the Yankees for the stretch drive of a pennant race and contributing big hits along the way. They can't wait to see how their lineup will look with both sluggers wearing pinstripes in 2017.
After splashing onto the scene with seven strong weeks to complete the 2015 season, Bird is the early favorite to serve as the Yanks' Opening Day first baseman, coming back from a right labrum surgery that cost him all of 2016. However, he did play in the Arizona Fall League.
"It's about just getting back in the batter's box and getting his swing mechanics down, and seeing pitches and taking pitches," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "All we care about is him having a full healthy Fall League, which he's done. It checks the box and we'll be looking forward to seeing him in Spring Training. All reports are, he looks good."
Bird, 24, hit .215 (14-for-65) with one home run and 10 RBIs in 17 games for the Scottsdale Scorpions, playing on a stacked roster that included fellow Yankees farmhands Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar and Tyler Wade.
The numbers may not have jumped off the page, but Bird recognized the value in getting back on the field.
"It was important. It was just fun to get out there and play and be around some younger guys in the organization, and pass on what I learned in my short time there," Bird told the YES Network. "Early on, I felt like I proved to myself that I can play again, and that was huge.
"It was a lot of fun being around those younger guys. I really enjoyed that. They're guys who can make a difference. I had a lot of fun playing again and I had a lot of fun watching them. I'm looking forward to next season and seeing what they can bring and what I can bring."
While the Yankees made some level of initial contact with the big-name sluggers on the free agent market, reaching out to the likes of Jose Bautista, they appear content to move forward with designated hitter Matt Holliday serving as their major offensive addition.
Cashman has said the Yankees are counting on their younger players at both first base and right field. Bird and Tyler Austin are set to battle at first base, perhaps comprising a lefty-righty platoon, while Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge will have a spring competition for the starting duties in right field.
Bird said all reports of his strength, flexibility and mobility have been positive, and he feels that he has time on his side. At the time of the procedure, there was speculation Bird might be able to return in September, but the Yankees squashed that in order not to rush Bird's rehab process.
"I'm ready to go. I spent a whole year thinking about it, getting ready for it and rehabbing for it," Bird said. "I'm going to continue to work in the offseason for it. Obviously going into last year before surgery, I was working to make the team, and I feel the same now. I've got to go out and prove that I can play, but in my mind, I don't have any doubts. I'm just excited to go out there and be part of Spring Training this time."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.