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December 23, 2006

by Fabian

Brett Gardner, CF, 23
Previously Ranked: 12th prior to 2006
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 10th, Baseball America 10th, John Sickels 11th (C+)

Physical Ability: Brett Gardner is a 5’10’’ 180 pound center fielder. He has a slight, but very muscled frame. As one might expect, he does not pack much pop in his swing. What he does have is a ton of speed. Gardner uses this speed to bunt for base hits, beat out groundballs, steals tons bases, and cover lots of ground in the outfield. In other words, he’s someone who seems to know his talents very well and utilize them. Gardner has an OK arm in the outfield and though he takes the occasional awkward route, he more than makes up for it with his aforementioned speed.

What Happened in ’06: Brett began the year playing CF for the Tampa Yankees and while just about all of his prospect teammates floundered, he was able to excel and earn a promotion to the Eastern League by June. Though he posted a very good AVG/OBP/SLG line in Tampa, it was a bit misleading as his BABIP was .416. In the last 3 major league seasons, the highest BABIP posted was .401 by Ichiro Suzuki in 2004. Needless to say, expecting Gardner to continue such success would be foolhardy. This was rectified in the Eastern League where his AVG/OBP/SLG dropped considerably as his BABIP dropped to .331. Given Gardner’s speed and proclivity for hitting the ball on the ground, such a number is much more reasonable and may even undersell his ability in this area. Brett’s last stop in a whirlwind season was the Arizona Fall League where he posted a .306 BABIP and low AVG/SLG numbers given the league he was in, but good OBP thanks to tons of walks. The common trend across all three levels for Gardner was that his offensive utility was largely dependent on his batting average, which is in turn hugely affected by BABIP. This is important because the more you strike out, the higher your average on balls in play is going to have to be to post a good batting average.

What Lies Ahead: As mentioned, Gardner is going to have to consistently post good BABIP to hold his value. To improve his chances of doing that, he’s going to have cut down on his strikeouts. While his strikeouts aren’t to the point where they are a glaring weakness there is work to be done there, and it presents a delicate situation. Gardner does not strike out due to lack of plate discipline, but rather because of perhaps too much discipline. He consistently works deep counts and waits for his pitch, but may have to attack earlier in the count to avoid strikeouts and their effect on his BABIP. I think it makes the most sense for him to begin the year back at Trenton and, you know, get his OPS over .700 at the least, but it seems that he may be starting in AAA. The shining light with that is that his approach is so advanced, it may affect him less than it would another prospect in the situation of being rushed.

Grade: If everything works out for Brett Gardner, he’s the player that many think Scott Podsednik is. Defensively, he’s rounding into shape, but can make the spectacular play on a regular basis due to his physical ability. Offensively, he is the definition of pest. It’s a truly enjoyable thing to watch him fluster minor league defenses by beating out base hits and successfully stealing on pitch outs. That said, I’m very concerned that things aren’t going to work out for him and that he is what he is, which right now is a defensive substitute and a pinch-runner. Gardner displayed just about no power during the minor league season as combined between Tampa, Trenton, and the AFL he only had 31 extra base hits. Given his speed, I would expect him to have collected more just off of the fact that anything in a gap or near a gap is an extra base hit for him. Unfortunately, a huge percentage of the balls he hits do not go much beyond the infield. So, despite the fact that he’s solid or better in the 5 tools, other than power, Gardner’s limitation in that department is so great that it potentially completely handicaps him. C+

George Kontos #17