Brett Gardner: Yankees Outfielder Is Primed For a Breakout Year

Chris JennerCorrespondent IApril 6, 2010

CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 4: Outfielder Brett Gardner #11 of the New York Yankees runs during batting practice against the Philadelphia Phillies March 4, 2010 at the Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Brett Gardner has the look of a man who knows it's his time.  Everything about his demeanor on the diamond tells you this guy has come to the park to play ball.

Gardner will see his 27th birthday this August, and is at the peak of his athletic prime.  When he first came up to the Yankees in 2008, he struggled at the plate batting just .228 in the 42 games he played.  His on-base-percentage was only .283.  Despite his struggles at the plate however, he still managed to steal 13 bases.  He was caught stealing only once. 

Gardner can flat out fly.  He is hailed as the fastest player in the Yankees entire organization, and when he gets on base, it's likely he'll take another.  The 2009 season was our first real view of this.  Gardner stole 26, bases, being caught only 5 times.  He boosted his batting average an incredible .52 points to an impressive .270 in 108 games.  His on -base-percentage also jumped to .345.

This should be no surprise to the Yankees , however.  His batting average of .447 for the college of Charleston was third in the nation, and he was 5th in batting with a .343 average in the Arizona fall league.  In 2008, Gardner sported the second best OBP in the International league, an impressive .414.  In his minor league career he batted a very respectable .291.  Besides being dubbed the fastest runner in the Yankees organization, Gardner was also touted a the minor leaguer with the best plate discipline for the Yanks by Baseball America.

Which bring us to this season.  Gardner went 2 for 4 against the Red Sox in the season opener.  His impressive display in the top of the 4th inning is what Yankee fans should hope for this season.  With 2 outs, and runners on the corners, Gardner drove Red Sox ace Josh Beckett to a full count, and then proceeded to slap the ball to left field for a 2 out, run scoring single.  His contribution did not stop there however.  The next batter, Derek Jeter drove a ball up the middle which saw Gardner easily go first to third.  We then saw the Yankees pull off the unconventional double steal, with Jeter taking second, and Gardner stealing home. 

Gardner is a threat to any team as soon as he gets on base.  His batting has steadily improved, and his career 40 stolen bases on 46 attempts should warn opposing pitchers to be very wary.  Gardner's ability to take that extra bag should help improve the scoring potential of the Yankees, giving the batters behind him more chances with a runner in scoring position.

Gardner is no slouch in the outfield, either.  Despite committing an error in the season opener against Boston, Gardner still boasts a career .989 fielding percentage, with only 3 career errors in 139 games.  With his speed, combined with that of newly acquired Curtis Granderson in center field, opposing teams will find it very difficult to shoot the gap on the Yankees this year.

If Gardner plays consistently, which he should, expect him to be a big contributor for the Yankees this season.