Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #96 Brett Gardner

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Through tremendous speed and agility, Gardner has elevated his defense to a truly elite level during his six years in the Bronx, earning a spot on the top 100 Yankees.

Name: Brett Gardner

Position: Outfield (CF/LF)

Born: August 24, 1983 (Holly Hill, SC)

Yankee Years: 2008-present

Primary number: 11

Yankee statistics: 568 G, .267/.351/.379, 74 2B, 28 3B, 22 HR, 150 SB, 80.6 SB%, 101 wRC+, 17.9 rWAR, 17.4 fWAR

Biography

Unlikely rise from cut to the Show

Brett Gardner grew up in a very small town in South Carolina that actually already had an established All-Star Yankee--Willie Randolph. His high school, Holly Hill Academy, only had 22 people in his 2001 graduating class. Although some college scouts liked his speed, no one felt comfortable offering him a Division I scholarship. Undeterred and unwilling to immediately accept a Division II scholarship, Gardner attended the nearby College of Charleston and decided he would try out for the baseball team. His audition was a disaster; not a single hit reached the outfield and his throws from the outfield were unimpressive. Gardner recalled, "If I was a coach, I'd be like, 'This kid's not going to cut it.'" The college's coaches agreed, and he did not make the team.

Gardner brought his baseball equipment back home to Holly Hill, figuring his baseball days were done. His father Jerry, a former minor league infielder in the Phillies organization from 1973-76, thought that his son had the talent to make the team. A little while later, Jerry wrote to John Pawlowski, the College of Charleston's coach, appealing that his son at least receive a second chance. Pawlowski and his colleagues figured it couldn't hurt, so Gardner was given a second shot in some scrimmage games. He impressed, and the next season as a starter, he hit .284/.370/.353 in 56 games, swiping 28 bases while only being caught five times. His play elevated further in his junior year, as he hit .397/.475/.574 with twelve doubles, nine triples, and four homers in 60 games, then became an All-American in his senior year, a phenomenal .447/.506/.571 campaign with 122 hits and 38 steals in 63 games. Jerry was right; the kid could play.

In the 2005 MLB Draft, the Yankees made Gardner a third-round pick, 109th overall in a mostly-unimpressive draft class headlined by flameouts C.J. Henry and J.B. Cox, though an unsigned Doug Fister was a sixth-round pick and high school outfielder Austin Jackson was an eight-round pick. The Yankees felt they were taking a gamble on Gardner, who they viewed as a speedster with "great plate discipline," but no power. Vice-president of scouting Damon Oppenheimer stated, "He's an absolute flyer. He's a fast runner who can really patrol center field. He can steal bases, has instincts to run and has performed with the bat." Minor League Balls' John Sickels thought Gardner was an slight overdraft and only gave him a C+ rating in 2006 book.

In Staten Island in '05, Gardner hit .284/.377/.376 with 19 stolen bases in 73 games. While he was there, he took his girlfriend on a tour of Yankee Stadium, telling her that the next time he came back, he wanted to be playing. In just three years, he would get his wish. Gardner impressed in High-A Tampa at the start of '06, crushing Florida State League pitching to a .323/.433/.418 line with 30 steals in just 63 games. He spent the next two half-seasons in Double-A Trenton, eventually earning him a promotion to Triple-A Scranton for the latter part of '07. By midseason '08, the Yankees needed an outfielder for the bench. Gardner finally got the call, and he made his MLB debut on June 30, 2008.

Bench player to the starting lineup

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Photo by Otto Greule Jr., Getty Images

Gardner had a modest rookie year in the big league with a weak .223/.283/.299, 54 wRC+ batting line, but he did have one big highlight. In just his sixth game, he had the first multi-hit game of his career, and the second hit was a walk-off single against Jonathan Papelbon in a Yankees/Red Sox game. He did impress Joe Girardi with his baserunning (13 steals in 14 attempts) and defense (1.2 dWAR) though, which almost alone helped him become a one-win player despite a poor performance at the plate.

In '09, Gardner split time in the outfield with Melky Cabrera, appearing in 108 games with a 91 wRC+ and 26 steals as the Yankees won their first division titles in three seasons. Gardner was mostly a defensive replacement in the playoffs, as Melky received the lion's share of the starts until he went down with a hamstring injury in the World Series. Gardner started the final two games of the Fall Classic as the Yankees finished off the Phillies to win the championship. His hometown and college coaches were ecstatic that one of their own was a World Series winner.

Gardner has since moved on from the bench and is now a regular in the Yankees' outfield, as the Yankees chose him, not Melky, to be a regular from 2010 onward. The first season was the best of his career thus far, as his 7.4 rWAR ranked fifth in the American League, and his 6.0 fWAR ranked eighth. He won his first Fielding Bible Award and finished third in the league with 47 stolen bases. In 2011, he tied with Coco Crisp for the AL stolen base crown, swiping a career-high 49 bags.

Since 2010, Gardner has rewarded the Yankees' confidence with a .270/.359/.387 triple slash good for an even 101 OPS+ and 14.3 rWAR in total in just four seasons (one of which was injury-plagued). His 80.6% stolen-base percentage ranks fourth in team history behind only Rickey Henderson, Alex Rodriguez, and Johnny Damon, and his rising total of 150 stolen bases ranks 12th in team history. With just four more steals, he will pass Horace Clarke, Roberto Kelly, and Mickey Mantle to reach ninth in team history.

It's fantastic that 2010 and 2011 Fielding Bible Award-winning defense, as seen in the GIFs below, has become the norm for Gardner.

Gardner might move up on this list as the years pass, but he has done a terrific job already through his superb defense and surprising plate performance. Not bad for a kid who couldn't make a college baseball team.

Andrew's rank: 96

Tanya's rank: 87

Community's rank: 97

Avg. WAR rank: 87.5

Season Stats

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB rWAR fWAR
2008 24 NYY 42 141 127 18 29 5 2 0 16 13 1 8 30 0.228 0.283 0.299 0.582 53 38 1.3 1.1
2009 25 NYY 108 284 248 48 67 6 6 3 23 26 5 26 40 0.270 0.345 0.379 0.724 87 94 2.3 2.3
2010 26 NYY 150 569 477 97 132 20 7 5 47 47 9 79 101 0.277 0.383 0.379 0.762 105 181 7.4 6.0
2011 27 NYY 159 588 510 87 132 19 8 7 36 49 13 60 93 0.259 0.345 0.369 0.713 92 188 3.9 5.0
2012 28 NYY 16 37 31 7 10 2 0 0 3 2 2 5 7 0.323 0.417 0.387 0.804 122 12 0.2 0.3
2013 29 NYY 93 396 353 52 96 22 5 7 32 13 6 33 81 0.272 0.338 0.422 0.761 108 149 2.8 2.7
NYY (6 yrs) 568 2015 1746 309 466 74 28 22 157 150 36 211 352 0.267 0.351 0.379 0.731 96 662 17.9 17.4

Stats from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs

References

Araton, Harvey. "Face of the New Yankees Leads Off." The New York Times. 31 Mar 2011.

"The Babe, Joltin' Joe and ... Brett." College of Charleston Sports. 11 Nov 2009.

Bans, Willie. "Yanks bring up speedy Gardner." MLB.com. 30 Jun 2008.

"Brett Gardner." Baseball Cube. (College statistics)

Curry, Jack. "For College Walk-Ons, a Road Less Traveled Makes All the Difference." The New York Times. 11 Apr 2009.

Feinsand, Mark. "Yankees go to school in Draft." MLB.com. 8 Jun 2005.

Sickels, John. "Prospect Report Redux: Brett Gardner." Minor League Ball. 1 Sep 2010.

Other Top 100 Yankees

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