Brett Gardner of the New York Yankees
Each spring unveils a fresh start for MLB players. Injuries are forgotten, declining statistics are erased and goals that were left unreached are replaced with new ones. The freshly cut green grass in the teams' spring training facility welcomes the players back to the game with a new hope for a better season.
Gardner ended the 2011 season with a batting average of .259 with 87 runs, seven home runs, 36 RBI and 60 walks in 159 games. He was tied for first in the American League with 49 steals in 62 attempts. His on-base percentage was .345, which was a drop from .383 in 2010.
However, as MLB.com's Bryan Hoch pointed out:
There was talk that Gardner had done plenty to help the Yankees win games on defense, evidenced in the sabermetric community by his Major League-leading Ultimate Zone Rating of 25.2 and the fact that his Defensive Runs Saved (22) were more than twice as many as any other AL left fielder.
Still, those aren't mainstream numbers that show up on the back of a baseball card -- Gardner certainly isn't toting the Bill James Handbook on road trips -- and he said that he wasn't very surprised when the Royals' Alex Gordon received AL Gold Glove honors instead.
According to Hoch, Gardner's personal goal for the upcoming season is to become more consistent on defense and especially the offensive side of his game. The Yankees and their fans have certainly witnessed the impact of Gardner in the outfield and once he gets on base. However, the fans and Gardner himself want his offensive game to improve.
Gardner has the skill set to become a great, well-rounded player in the majors and the Yankees definitely have the tools and resources to help him achieve this.
Enter Yankees' hitting coach Kevin Long.
Long has been working with Gardner to give him a more consistent balance at the plate. If Long can make tweaks and adjustments to Gardner and have similar results as when he worked with center fielder Curtis Granderson last year, Gardner will have a very solid chance at receiving the AL Gold Glove award this season.
[Gardner is] still very, very good and very, very talented, but I wouldn't be surprised if someday we don't see Gardner stealing 75-80 bases, hitting maybe close to that .300 mark and maybe becoming a little bit more consistent with that bunting game.
Those numbers will certainly bump Gardner up to taking over Derek Jeter's position as leadoff hitter and keep him in pinstripes for years to come.