Brett Gardner is a solid major league center field prospect. He has some limited major league experience. He was very, very good at Triple-A. Gardner seems like a pretty person to put your money on if you are the New York Yankees. Cashman only brought one alternative to camp – Melky Cabrera – to keep Gardner honest.
Most of the dialogue surrounding Gardner suggests that he will be a liability if played every day. I think its important to remember that (as with any rookie) there is a considerable range of potential contributions that Gardner can make. His #2 PECOTA comparable is Kenny Lofton, which I didn’t believe too much until I looked at Lofton’s minor league numbers. The similarities?
- Lofton hit .308/.367/.417 at Triple-A in his age-24 season. Gardner hit .296/.414/.422 in Triple-A in his age-24 season.
- Lofton hit .331/.407/.395 at High-A in his age-23 season. Garder hit .300/.392/.419 in Double-A in his age-24 season.
- Lofton hit .203/.253/.216 in his a 20 game cup of coffee in the major leagues at age 24. Gardner hit .228/.283/.299 in a 42 game debut at age 24
Both were extremely fast center fielders with little power. Both were relatively unheralded yet experienced college draftees. Gardner strikes out a bit more than Lofton did, but he also takes more walks.
How did Lofton hit in his first full major league season? He hit .285/.362/.365 – which is not unreasonable to expect of Gardner. He obviously is much more likely to flounder than to have a career as good as Lofton’s, but he isn’t a terrible bet to be an asset at the center field position immediately. If he replicates Lofton’s batting line, Gardner would be more valuable than Jacoby Ellsbury is projected to be.