Alex Rodriguez's rumored relationship with a shriveled pop-singing prune, scandalous steroids admittance, hip setback and suggestive Details photo spread has dominated the New York headlines, and bathroom wall decor in West Village bars, for much of the spring.
But quietly an energized, yet humble, youngster is starting to captivate the hearts and minds of Pinstripe beat-writers. Deep-thinking fantasy owners have been enraptured too.
Brett Gardner, an intense grinder similar in style and substance as what Scott Podsednik used to be, has fought tooth and nail with Melky Cabrera for the Yankees opening day center-field job this spring. After it was revealed Derek Jeter would open the season as the primary leadoff man early last week and based on the swirling trade rumors about Cabrera, it was no shock skipper Joe Girardi officially declared Sunday the feisty 25-year-old had won the position:
"He continued what he did the last three weeks, where he was patient and saw a lot of pitches. He hit a lot of hard line drives and was productive for us the last three weeks of the season. He just carried it over."
Even before Girardi's announcement, the Big Apple hype machine had already placed Gardner high upon a golden pedestal. One well-known "Sports Reporter" proclaimed the rookie will be to the Yankees what Dustin Pedroia was to the Red Sox last year, minus the power. In the business that's what we call a "
you're out of your (expletive) mind bold prediction."
In reality, the plucky outfielder isn't really statistically special, with the exception of one tough-to-field category: steals.
Most scouts agree Gardner's blazing speed could scare the spots off a cheetah. His minor league totals validate their view. Since 2006, the "Fast and Furious" kid has averaged 48.7 steals per year, posting a laudable 80.1 percent success rate.
However, due to Gardner's questionable debut late last year, many in fantasyland still aren't convinced he's roster worthy in mixed leagues.
In his first taste of big league action, Gardner was essentially the albino cousin of Michael Bourn. He looked nervous, inconsistent and overtly aggressive at the dish, characteristics not congruent with his past performance. The numbers reflected his atypical demeanor. In 127 at-bats, he tallied an appalling 23.6 K% and .283 OBP, a far cry from the career .389 OBP compiled over three minor league seasons.
The former collegiate walk-on's bitter-tasting experience motivated him to revamp his approach this past offseason. This spring, his retooled stance has yielded positive results. In 52 Grapefruit at-bats, he's racked a .385 BA with three homers, six RBI and five steals. The surge in long-balls is deceptive (Based on his four career homers in 1,295 career at-bats, A-Rod's cousin must have tagged him with a PED-loaded blow dart) but his 7:6 K:BB split isn't.
The lefty-swinger is an excellent end-draft selection or waivers add in deeper mixed leagues (11 percent owned). Sure, he's expected to bat ninth to start the year, but if Jeter struggles atop the lineup and Gardner thrives, don't be surprised Girardi eventually lets the rookie swing first. Based on his strong minor league speed record, ground-pounding ways (52.2 GB% at Triple-A last year), sensational contact rate (89.9 CT% with Yanks) and discerning eye, he's a prototype leadoff hitter.
At this point, Gardner is more valuable than other two-cat contributors like the aforementioned Bourn, Denard Span, Carlos Gomez and Juan Pierre. Owners in 12-team and deeper mixed leagues looking for a steals spark should scour the wire immediately. Remember, the Yankees ranked seventh in steals last year.
If anything, the publicity generated playing in baseball's largest market should swell his trade value -- hopefully not his ego.
Fearless Forecast: 498 at-bats, .272 BA, 2 HR, 34 RBI, 71 R, 40 SB
Image courtesy of US Presswire