Brett Gardner is getting a lot of love from the Yankee heirarchy lately- Brian Cashman called him a Juan Pierre who'll take a walk, and said he thought he'd make an impact on the 2008 Yankees at some point. Other publications have rated him as high as the 4th best Yankee prospect overall. Not all are drinking the Gardner Kool-aid, however. This evalation from Yankee blog NoMaas.org paints a very different picture of what to expect from Mr Gardner going forward. The author does raise some excellent points regarding Gardner's extremely high K rate:
Brett Gardner has been getting a lot of attention this spring, which isn’t all that surprising. It’s hard not to take notice of one of the fastest players in professional baseball. Brian Cashman compared him to Juan Pierre with more walks and picked him as the minor league position prospect most likely to make an impact this season. Joe Girardi has praised his play as well, noting that he plays hard and keeps the pitcher and infielders on their toes.
It certainly seems Gardner has plenty of fans among Yankees management, but is their faith misplaced? Gardner is your typical slap hitting speedster, and while he does draw a large number of walks, he also strikes out at an alarming rate for a prospect with his skill-set. Ever since he’s started full season ball he’s struck out about once every five ABs, which would be a little worrisome even for a power-hitting prospect.
Usually when guys strike out that often, there’s a tradeoff for more power and a higher BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play). Gardner has improved neither. He’s hit one HR in the minors, and has a below average BABIP that will likely go down in the majors. It’s hard to imagine that someone with no power and already poor contact skills will be able to draw many walks against major league pitching. Pitchers have every incentive to keep guys like Gardner off the basepaths and there’s no reason to pitch around him when he’s proven he’s substandard at reaching base other than walking.
Of Gardner’s top 20 comps according to PECOTA, ten of them have made the majors. Of those ten, only two have ever been a full time player for even one season, Brett Butler and Marvin Bernard. Unfortunately for Gardner, Butler was in another stratosphere offensively while in the minors. He made more contact, hit for more power, had a much higher BABIP, and walked more. Bernard wasn’t that great, but he still made more contact than Gardner with better power and production.
As for Brian Cashman’s personal comp for Gardner, Juan Pierre, there’s actually a couple key components that differentiates the two besides plate discipline. For one, Pierre struck out about once ever 16 ½ PA, or about a quarter as often as Gardner. He also got a hit about 33% of the time he put the ball in play, way above average but it still fell down to just above average at 31% in the majors. If Gardner sees a similar drop (and going off of Gardner’s comps that have had major league experience that may be conservative), he’d be down to about 27.5%, among the worst in the majors.
It’s hard to imagine a world where Gardner is a viable option as an everyday player. Players like him just don’t become everyday players. Even if he adjusted to the majors as well as Pierre did he’d still be a weak spot in the lineup, and his routes in the OF preclude his defense from making up for his bat. He could be a useful bench player, especially for a team like the 2008 Yankees who have plenty of bats but could use some speed and defense for the late innings. Gardner’s never going to be good enough to warrant the attention he’s received this spring, but he could fill a role for the Yankees. Let’s just hope they take advantage of him rather than waiting for him to develop into someone he’ll never be.