Brett Gardner knows his limitations, he just refuses to look at them as limitations.
"I think its a good thing," Gardner says of his game, based on speed and hustle and smarts, "I think that's the thing I have over some of the other people, not necessarily in my organization, but some of the other outfielders in baseball. I'm fortunate to have the speed, and fortunate to have the kind of small-ball game where I can steal some bases and make some things happen."
Gardner has not only made people raise their eyebrows since he came to the organization, he has made people around baseball raise their eyebrows with the way he way came to the organization. Gardner had to walk on at the College of Charleston just to play collegiate baseball, but even after a breakout junior season, scouts saw only his small frame (listed at 5'11", but closer to 5'8") and he went undrafted. It might have been a sign to pack things up for some players, but Gardner looked at it as a challenge.
"I made it my mission my senior year to have no regrets," Gardner said after batting practice at the premier prospect league in baseball, "I had a good senior season and was lucky enough to get picked by a good team like the Yankees."
So now Gardner has the expectations of a third round pick, the body of a junior varsity second baseman, and the work ethic of a triathelete. What to do? How about a comparison or two. Imagine Brett Butler with a better arm? How about Johnny Damon with better base stealing ability?
"I didn't necessarily grow up watching [Butler]. I didn't have a favorite player or team when I was younger, I just loved the game. I really don't think I play like any one person. Some people have said Johnny Damon, but I think he hits for a little more power than I probably will one day."
Don't think that Gardner is just packing it in though. He's quickly become a favorite for fans to watch in the Arizona Fall League. While most of the prospects here are taking extra swings in the cage, Gardner is making diving catches, taking the extra base, and generally being a nuisance to opposing pitchers.
Through the first two weeks of the AFL season he was hitting .406 with a flat out stupid on base percentage of .812. Do the math, 32 at-bats, 13 hits and 13 walks. He's stolen three bases, he's got a double and a pair of triples, and in nine games, he's scored 12 runs.
That's production at any level, but in a league comprised of the best each organization has to offer, Gardner is moving up lists quickly. A surprise? Not to Gardner.
"I think I was fortunate this year to start in high-A and get off to a great start. I was playing well and got moved up to Double-A, and I would have liked to have done a little better there, but I was pleased with my overall season."
"I've been fortunate to play with some great teammates and great coaches and I made it to double-A, playing with some older guys, in my first full season of pro ball. I'm fortunate to have moved pretty fast, and I like where I'm at right now."
No kidding. Moved to double-A in his first full season. Tearing up the AFL. What's next for the speedster? Nothing. Gardner doesn't look forward, he concentrates on the now.
"James Rowson was my hitting coach in Spring Training, and then the first part of this year in Tampa, and he's here with us now. All hitting coaches bring something different to the table, just like players, and me and him seem to click."
"My hitting's really what I'm down here working on, it's probably the weakest part of my game, and he and I seem to be on the same page. He knows where I'm at, what I'm trying to do, what my game is. He manages to get his points across, and I manage to understand what he's trying to tell me. I love working with him, and down here I'm just trying to continue becoming a better hitter."
For Gardner, that constant improvement, the unceasing desire, is probably his biggest plus. The word 'intangibles' was made for Gardner, and he knows it.
"The things I bring to the table and the way I play are good things to bring to a team."