Continuing with the current series of Prospect Retrospectives, today we turn our attention to outfielder Brett Gardner of the New York Yankees. He's been a very productive regular outfielder for the last four years, turning out to be much more valuable than I thought he would be when he was a prospect.
Brett Gardner was drafted by the Yankees in the third round in 2005, from the College of Charleston. Speed was his calling card, 80-grade speed and the ability to draw walks making him a potent leadoff type, but his power was questionable without metal bats. He'd had a very strong senior season hitting .447/.506/.571 with 38 steals and a 29/18 BB/K in 273 at-bats, though keep in mind that offense was at very high levels in the NCAA at that point in history.
He hit .284/.377/.376 with 19 steals for Staten Island in the New York-Penn League after signing. He earned a Grade C+ in the 2006 book. I thought he was a slight overdraft, but that he could be a useful player if he showed enough pop to survive at higher levels.
Gardner hit .323/.433/.418 with 30 steals in 63 games for Class A Tampa in 2006, then .272/.352/.318 with 28 steals in 55 games after moving up to Double-A Trenton. He was still a Grade C+ in the 2007 book, due to his speed, willingness to take walks, and impressive defensive ability. Still, it was doubtful if he would show enough pop to start. I wrote that he had "an outside chance to become Juan Pierre, but I think Jason Tyner-with-more-walks is more likely."
Returning to Trenton to begin 2007, Gardner hit .300/.392/.419 in 54 games with 18 steals, then hit .260/.343/.331 in 45 games for Triple-A Scranton with 21 steals. Note the steady decline in isolated power as he moved up. The analysis didn't change: He was still a Grade C+ in the 2008 book, again with his ability to field, get on base and swipe bags, but again projecting as a fourth outfielder.
Gardner hit .296/.414/.422 in 2008 for Scranton, with 37 steals in 94 games. Promoted to the majors, he hit .228/.283/.299 in 127 at-bats. He did steal 13 bases in 14 attempts, but the strong eye for the zone that he showed in the minors didn't carry forward too strongly, with an 8/30 BB/K. Big league pitchers didn't have much trouble containing him and he rated a Grade C entering 2009, still projecting as a defense-and-speed-oriented reserve.
Gardner held that reserve role in '09 but showed better zone discipline and more life with the bat, hitting .270/.345/.379 with 26 steals in 31 attempts over 248 at-bats. He took over as a regular in 2010, producing steady batting averages in the .250-.270 range with speed and excellent defense. His glovework has helped goose his fWAR values, as high as 6.1 in 2010 and 21.5 overall in his career.
Overall he is a .265/.346/.390 hitter over 2487 at-bats, with 182 steals in 225 attempts. As you know he hit 17 homers last year, more than double his previous high, and his Isolated Power has been creeping upward. At .125 in his career is well above what he did in the minors (.095).
The "Jason Tyner with more walks" wasn't massively off in the batting average and OBP departments: Tyner hit .275 in his career with a .314 OBP. However, Gardner has shown considerably more pop (Tyner's ISO was just .049) and has also been a more aggressive stealer.
Like Denard Span, Gardner got to the majors with his speed and glovework but developed enough ability to drive the ball to hold a regular job and avoid fourth outfielder-dom. Through Age 30, his Sim Score comp list is Marvin Benard, Pat Kelly, Johnny Wyrostek, Billy Sample, Dan Gladden, Oddibe McDowell, Lenny Green, Brady Anderson, Mookie Wilson, and Juan Beniquez. No stars there, but very useful role players.
Next up on the speed player examinations: Chone Figgins and Angel Pagan.