Among the many rookie players the Mariners have called up as fillers this season, one name stands out among the rest. Young-gun 2B Dustin Ackley has become one of the more productive hitters in the Mariners offense and has been a significant contributor helping put more runs on the board in clutch situations. With strong plate discipline and natural power in his swing, this Arizona Fall League MVP posted a .303 AVG that immediately caught the attention of the Mariners front office. Not only is this young man good with the bat, but he also has responded well defensively. All of this led to Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik making the call to Triple-A Tacoma to bring Ackley to the majors in June.
Like any young prospect, the shift from minor league baseball to the majors is a big one. This graduation brings a change in intensity, as well as whole new set of expectations from coaches, teammates and even the fans.
This former Tar Heel made the transition from college to the minors to the Majors in just about two years - while shifting over to 2B instead of his college and minor league position at 1B. He’s learning one of the most difficult positions at the major league level. To make this change fully work, Ackley would need to quickly adopt the ability to handle the wider range of infield between the two bases, as well as develop his athleticism in order to handle plays from his knees, on the run, and diving to stop groundballs.
In addition to these defensive adjustments, Ackley would also need to acclimate to quicker and trickier pitching from guys like C.C. Sabathia, Josh Beckett, and Justin Verlander at the plate. This will require Ackley to continue fine-tuning his already strong level of discipline at the plate, as well as his aggressiveness when behind in the count.
All of this training would finally be put to the test as the new Mariner was welcomed with an astounding ovation by the Seattle crowd during his debut game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Much to the delight of everyone in Safeco, Ackley did not disappoint, as his first career at-bat yielded a single through the legs of veteran right-hander Roy Oswalt. Ackley would finish the night 1-4 with just that single and the Mariners would go on to win the game 4-2
Day two would prove a similar result as Ackley immediately trumped his previous day’s work -hitting his first career home run off Phillies rookie Vance Worley in the 2nd inning. Ackley would experience déjà-vu in the bottom of the 6th inning against Phillies reliever Mike Stutes. Stutes, a former Oregon State pitcher, faced Ackley and the North Carolina Tar Heels in the 2007 NCAA College World Series final – where the Beavers would emerge as national champions for the second consecutive year. The energy at Safeco was palpable as the two former foes squared off for the first time in four years. Sadly, history would repeat itself as Ackley would line out to 3B, which would later result in a 5-1 loss for the M’s.
Ackley would strike again in game three, hitting his first career triple – off NL Cy Young contender Cole Hamels – as part of an amazing shutout victory for Seattle 2-0.
Since his first ML series, Ackley has become an important factor in the Mariners recent success. His batting average (as of 6/27) currently stands at .303 and his OPS (On-base plus slugging percentage) totals .927 in nine games, seven of those games have included at least one hit. Ackley’s most significant day of hitting occurred on 6/26 in the relocated Marlins series (played in Seattle) where he went 3 for 5 with a single, double, and triple, scoring one of the M’s two runs of the game.
In addition to the stellar batting, Ackley has also been able to fully transition to his new 2B position, especially when there has been no one else available to fill the slot. His ability to quickly react and close the gap alongside SS Brendan Ryan has caused nightmares for visiting teams.
This critical trait has aided in his ability to turn double-plays when the situation warrants. Below is a clip showing Ackley’s athleticism as he initiates a double play against the Nationals:
All things considered, it has definitely been a long time coming for the young man from North Carolina. Taken in the first round of the 2009 MLB Draft, the M’s made it their goal to make sure Ackley was primed and ready to enter the majors - and to make the lineup work with his arrival. In the end though, only time will tell what awaits this promising young man from Winston-Salem, NC.
All statistics and play-by-play information courtesy of ESPN.com (http://www.espn.go.com/mlb), video courtesy of the Seattle Mariners via MLB.com (http://www.seattlemariners.com), and photo courtesy of Associated Press (http://www.apimages.com)
About the Author
Written by Chase Smith
Freelance/professional writer for stories in MLB, NBA, and NCAA (particular to teams in Pacfic Northwest/West Coast)