For the last six seasons, a lefty-swinging power bat has trotted out to left field for the New York Yankees. With both Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon playing elsewhere this season, the Yankees will rely on speedster, Brett Gardner and veteran free agent, Randy Winn this season.

Left field is traditionally a power hitter dominant position. However, when your four infielders hit 116 total home runs during the regular season last year, you can afford to optimize your squad in other spots. Both Brett Gardner and Randy Winn are excellent defenders and project to be even better in 2010. Gardner posted a UZR of +7.2 in 2009, tops among Yankees. Winn posted an overall UZR of +16.5 last season with Giants.

CHONE projects Gardner(+10.8) and Winn(+7.6) for this season, far surpassing the production of Johnny Damon in 2009(-9.2).

Both players are threats on the base paths. Gardner swiped 26 bases in only 108 games. He had an impressive success rate of 84%. Winn too, was impressive on the bases. He managed to take 16 bases, while posting an 89% conversion rate. For the amount of power the Yankees lost in Johnny Damon, they made it up ten-fold in terms of speed and defense, something that the team does not have an abundance of.

Brett Gardner will start the season in left field and hit in the 9th hole. Gardner posted a .345 OBP in 248 at-bats last season. He brings a dynamic speed element to the team, something that no other Yankee has. With every appearance, Gardner will force infielders and outfielders to hurry throws. Even with his sample size, can Gardner play 162 games?

My guess is no. Expect Gardner to play 2/3 of the games with Randy Winn getting a chunk of the action. We’ll probably see the occasional Marcus Thames sighting, but this is Gardner’s time to shine.

Gardner will not lead the league in home runs, but he can help the Yankees turn the line up over. He provides a different elements for a team that is now stressing youth and defensive-prowess. If he gets 450 at-bats, 50 stolen bases is a real possibility. However, he has to prove that he can hit in a Major League lineup. Gardner struck out in 20% of his Major League at-bats, a little high for a non-power hitter.

Gardner Projection: .270 batting average, 3 HRs, 35 SBs, .350 on-base percentage.

Winn Projection: .270 batting average, 7 HRs, 15 SBs, .325 on-base percentage.

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