2009: After a strong spring training performance, Brett Gardner opened the 2009 season as the starting center fielder for the Yankees, beating out Melky Cabrera. He got off to a slow start in his first 20 games, but went on to hit .289 with three homers, four triples and 17 stolen bases in the first three months of the season. Gardner broke his thumb in late July, putting a damper on his season and forcing him to the disabled list. While rehabbing, he reinjured his thumb and ended up missing the entire month of August.By the time he returned, Cabrera had reclaimed his job in center field and Gardner saw limited playing time. He hit .250 in his final 23 games of the season and was used primarily as a defensive replacement in the postseason, notching a .154 AVG in 14 games.
If not for the thumb injury, Gardner might have put up better numbers in 2009. All things considered, he still managed to post a .270/.345/.379 line in 108 games. His .345 OBP was better than league average, which further cements the fact that Gardner will be a terrific bottom-of-the-order speedster going into 2010.
2010: Unless he knocks the cover off the ball, Gardner will likely split time with Marcus Thames and Randy Winn. As the best defensive outfielder on the roster, Gardner would be the best choice for center field, but the Yankees seem committed to using Curtis Granderson there. Still, Gardner is a tremendous defensive upgrade over Johnny Damon and will add some serious speed to the bottom of the order. If he improves the way he normally does from season to season, the Yankees could have a legitimate leadoff hitter on their hands.
I’ve gotten the chance to watch Gardner improve and grow over the past three seasons, which has been very interesting. During his first Triple-A stint, he struggled at the plate and struck out more often than usual. He improved on every aspect of his game the next season; he improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio, hit for more power and had better quality at-bats. He struggled in a similar manner during his first big league promotion in 2008, but made the necessary improvements for the 2009 season. Gardner is an extremely hard worker, and it would not surprise me to see him take another step forward in 2010.