Fortunately, he didn’t talk as fast as he runs. NoMaas’ Sensei John Kreese chats with Brett Gardner about all aspects of his game and his goal for a .350 OBP.

SJK: Describe your offseason workout routine.

BG: I took about five weeks off, started again around December 15th — running, weights..and right before Christmas, I started hitting again and taking some swings off the tee — really just light, trying to get back into it. After that, I start working out everyday and got ready to come down here [Tampa].

For the last five years, ever since I’ve been with the Yankees, I’ve come down to Spring Training early. For the first couple years, it was mandatory, you know, for instructional ball and things like that. For the last few years, I’ve come down on my own, just to get out, run outside — I get more work in here than I would back at home.

SJK: How’s the thumb?

BG: It’s good. I missed 42 days, six weeks exactly. It wasn’t a case of coming back too early — they told me when it happened that it might not feel right for almost a year. Now, it’s just starting to feel normal again. It bothered me a little bit in December and January while I was hitting. I was wondering if something was wrong with it. But the more that I did with it and the more that I’ve done in the last few weeks, it has actually gotten better. I have full range of motion back. I feel good.

SJK: Over the offseason Cash made a lot of moves, one of which was obviously trading Melky away. When you found out that Melky was traded, what was your reaction? Did you think “Oh snap, here’s my shot!” — how did you feel?

BG: I was disappointed because Melky had been here for a few years, he came up with the organization…I don’t want to say that we were really, really close, but we got pretty close over the last two years and he was a big part of what we did last year.

You know, I kinda figured, even without Johnny and Matsui being re-signed at the time, that when they traded and we got Curtis Granderson, I pretty much knew that one of me or Melky would be gone. You can kinda see the writing on the wall. It happened to be him and hopefully it works out for both of us. I wish him nothing but the best and I know he’ll do well over with Atlanta.

SJK: There were rumors during the offseason that you might be going to Kansas City or Chicago. Did that bother you at all? Did that wear on your mentally? Or was it more “it’s part of the business?”

BG: Part of the business. It didn’t bother me at all. At the point I am in my career, all I can ask for is the opportunity to be in the big leagues and get a chance to play everyday. If teams were inquiring about me and wanted to know if I was available, I just take that as a compliment and I take it even more as a compliment that I’m still here with the Yankees. This is the best of the best. It doesn’t get any better than this.

SJK: Speaking of playing time, have you received any indication from Cash or Girardi that you will be one of the starting outfielders this year, or in your mind, is it still a competition between you and say Randy Winn at this point?

BG: Oh absolutely, I really haven’t sat down and talked to him [Girardi] at all, and as far as I know me, Randy, Marcus, and Jamie Hoffman will all be trying to do our thing in Spring Training and go out there and show them that we’re all able to contribute…and hopefully when the season starts, I’ll be in there everyday. It’s not something I really worry about. I just try to get my work in, improve, and try to become a better player. I think the competition between the three or four us will make us all better and work harder.

SJK: I read earlier in the offseason that you wanted to work more bunts into your hitting approach, and obviously that makes sense because of your wheels…but is bunting an area that you felt the need to improve on and why do you feel that incorporating more bunts into your hitting approach will help you?

BG: I used to be really good at it. In 2006 or 2007, it was either in High-A or Double-A, half and half, or Double-A and Triple-A, I remember I was 26 for 39 on the season on base-hit bunts. I batted .666 just bunting. Those numbers and percentages are not going to translate over to the major league level, because the defense is better and you’re facing tougher pitching…you don’t get as many balls over the plate to lay down a good bunt.

But, I kinda got away from it the last few years in the minor leagues because I wanted to use every at-bat to improve my swing and progress with that. I kinda took it for granted that the bunting would still be there when I needed it, and I just haven’t felt comfortable for the last year or so. It’s something I’m doing a lot in the offseason and I know I need to do it more, not only to get some hits and get on base, but to bring in the defense a little more and open up some holes for me. For someone like me with a little bit of speed, I can hopefully use it to boost my on-base percentage.

SJK: Now, you made a really interesting point that you want to bunt to bring the defense in more and hopefully be able to slap some balls through the infield because of that. Do you feel as though that defenses don’t play you in now? — (Brett cuts SJK off)

BG: They definitely do and it’s one of the reasons I haven’t bunted a lot. You obviously have better defenders at this level and I feel like when I come to the plate, the alarm sounds…the main thing is I need to stay in there and I need to concentrate on getting the bunt down and putting the ball where I want it..and if I do that, I’ll beat it out, it doesn’t matter where they’re playing at.

SJK: You mentioned on-base percentage and obviously with your type of speed, when it comes to hitting, it all comes down to on-base percentage for you. In the minors, you’ve always been able to draw a high amount of walks. I think your career minor league OBP is around .389, which is obviously impressive.

However, and I’m sure you’ve heard it, the critique of you is essentially the lack of power. And in some circles, and even us, when you were coming up, we were like, “Wow, he’s putting up some great numbers. He’s stealing a ton of bases.” — But when he gets to the major league level, pitchers — knowing that power isn’t one of your better attributes — will challenge you more because they don’t fear the consequences of you taking them out. And as a result of that, you may not be able to walk as much and basically your minor league production wouldn’t be able to be replicated in the majors. Do you feel as though this is a legitimate concern? Do you feel pitchers will challenge you more?

BG: Absolutely and that’s one of the main things as far as a hitting standpoint and from an approach standpoint that I have to change. Because in the minor leagues I proved that I can hit, and I was leading off everyday…I proved that I can hit. I was at the top of the lineup. Guys were a little more careful. I don’t want to say that they pitched around me because I was a power bat, because I wasn’t at all. But, they maybe were a little bit more careful with the pitches they made and being a patient hitter, I was able to get my share of walks.

In the last year, year and a half, obviously when I’m in the lineup, I’m the weakest hitter in the lineup. And the last thing they want to do is walk me in the 9-hole, and pitch around me, and be careful with me…and bring those guys up with me on base.

So I’m not going to go up there and swing at the first and second pitch every time, but I do need to be a little bit more aggressive. I need to prove that I can hit at this level and I need to prove that I can do it consistently. Once I do that, pitchers may be a little bit more careful and I can draw my fair share of walks again.

SJK: In the minors, your contact rate was a bit of a question mark. In 2007 and 2008, you struck out in over 20% of your plate appearances. However, in 2009 at the big league level, that strikeout rate went down to about 16%, which statistically is sizable drop. Did you change your approach at all?

BG: I wouldn’t say that it’s a change in my approach at all. The one thing I will credit is that at the end of the 2008 season, Kevin Long and I worked on my swing, primarily on my stance and my stride. We completely took my stride out of there. Now, I’m hitting with no stride. I feel like I’m in a much better position to hit. I’m more balanced. When you take the stride out of the swing, there’s less movement and you’re more consistent. I feel that’s definitely helped, especially in two strike situations. I’d love to get that down to 12% or 10%, because when you put the ball in play, you have a better chance of getting on base.

SJK: When you’re on base, is there anything specific you look for when you’re stealing?

BG: Yeah, there’s a lot of different things you look for. You obviously need to know who’s behind the plate, but even more important than that, is trying to get a good read on the pitcher, what his times are to the plate, what kind of move he’s got — whether you can get a big lead, small lead, or an average league. There’s a lot of things that fit into that equation than just going out there and running.

SJK: Switching topics to defense, in 2009, you were nothing short of phenomenal in CF. According to the advanced statistics that people like me look at it — you know the people that can’t play baseball — you were one of the best defensive centerfielders in the bigs last year. And for months, our website has been advocating that you should be the starting CF and that Granderson should be bumped to left field. Whether or not that happens, we’ll see, but how would you rate yourself as a defender and do you envision yourself as a centerfielder eventually?

BG: I feel that defense is the main part of my game. I take a lot of pride in being able to cover a lot of ground out there and getting good jumps…and tracking some balls down and taking away hits. Hopefully I can continue to make strides out there and improve on some things — getting better jumps on balls.

I definitely view myself as a centerfielder. That’s pretty much the only position I’ve ever played. I played a little left field in the minor leagues coming up — once or twice every couple weeks. I played some in 2008 when Johnny was down. But I don’t even know if I played an inning over there last year. I don’t know where I’ll be playing at. Now is the perfect time to work on it in Spring Training — because you take as many fungos as you want and as many balls off the bat as you want — there’s nothing like seeing balls off the bat in a game, and I got a couple balls hit out there to me today in our first game.

I’m looking forward to improving over there and when I play CF during Spring Training, I’ll continue to work on things out there and improve out there as well.

SJK: Obviously, your speed helps you cover a lot of ground. What about your routes? What do you think about your route-taking?

BG: I feel like I take pretty good routes. You can always improve out there. You’ll always make mistakes. But you can always improve judging the ball coming into the zone and knowing the angles off the bat.

SJK: You ever get sick of people talking about your speed?

BG: Nah, not really. That’s my game. That’s the reason I’m still playing baseball and the reason where I’m at today. I realize that and I need to continue to take care of my legs and let that be an asset for years to come hopefully.

SJK: Well, let’s continue to talk about speed then. Who wins in a race? CC Sabathia or you running wheelbarrow style?

BG: CC Sabathia, he’s an unbelievable athlete. He can really move for a big guy. I had no idea he was athletic as he was.

SJK: But straight up, you’d beat him?

BG: Straight up, I think I got him by a little bit.

SJK: You come from a very small town in South Carolina, right?

BG: Yeah, two stop lights. I went to high school with 22 people.

SJK: What do you think Joe Girardi’s reaction would be if you proposed having sweet tea in the clubhouse?

BG: Sweet tea?!? He might be ok with that. I don’t see what the difference is between drinking sweet tea and drinking red bull with sugar in it. It’s the same thing, right?

SJK: Didn’t he ban candy and all that stuff from the clubhouse a couple years ago?

BG: Maybe if I asked for sweet-tea flavored ice cream, he might have a problem with it. But, I don’t know if you can even buy sweet tea up in New York. HA HA HA!

SJK: My last question, do you believe that major league baseball should enact a policy allowing players to steal first base?

BG: That would be nice. I’d be a much better player. HA HA.

SJK: I’d think you’d be MVP.

BG: If there was some way to do it, I’d be a much better player. People always give me a hard time about not being able to steal first, so for me, it’s just to continue to make strides at the plate and become more consistent — and get my on-base percentage up over .350 and I’ll be ok.

SJK: Ok Brett, that’s all I got. I appreciate it.

BG: Sounds good. Good talking to you.

Many thanks to Brett for talking to NoMaas. We wish him the best of luck in the upcoming season.

– Audio clips from the interview –

Brett Gardner talking about his reaction to the Granderson and Melky Cabrera trades:

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Brett talking about bunting:

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Brett addressing the concerns about his lack of power affecting his ability to get on base in the bigs:

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Brett’s response to us joking about stealing first base and subsequently telling us he wants to achieve a .350 OBP:

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