Sunday November 13, 2011
Sam Evans: Dustin Ackley has one of the brighter futures of all young major leaguers. He has lived up to the hype on every team he’s played on and has yet to appear overmatched in the majors.
Dustin Ackley was born in 1988 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In high school we won two state championships in baseball and made honor roll. In 2007, as a freshman at the University of North Carolina, Ackley hit over .400 and started all of his teams 73 games. Ackley, and fellow future first-rounder Alex White, led their team to the College World Series championship but lost to Oregon State. As a sophomore, Ackley just improved, batting .417 on the year.
One thing the average baseball fan doesn’t realize is that Ackley does have a serious injury history. As a junior, he had Tommy John surgery and was forced to play first base for the Tar Heels. Nevertheless, in 2009 he hit .417 again except this time showing off his power hitting 22 home runs. In his three years at North Carolina, Ackley had a OBP of .487, stole more than 10 bases every year, and firmly established his reputation as the best college hitter entering the 2009 draft.
After the consensus #1 pick Stephen Strasburg was selected by the Nationals, the Mariners picked Ackley. It was considered a pretty solid pick and not a stretch by any means. “We think he’s a player that will move pretty quick,” Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik said. What’s interesting is that Zduriencik himself actually scouted Ackley in North Carolina, which is rare for a GM living on the other side of the U.S.
The Mariners signed Ackley to a five-year, 7.5 million dollar, major league contract, just before the deadline. Before the 2010 season, the Mariners made a highly criticized move, deciding to move Dustin Ackley, the longtime UNC outfielder, to second base. At the time, most scouts were doubtful of Ackley’s ability to stick at second base.
2010 was an interesting year for Ackley. He got off to a very slow start at AA West Tennessee, but still managed to get on base at a .389 clip, and quieted a couple of whispers about his defense. After 82 games in Tennessee, Ackley was promoted to AAA Tacoma. I was lucky enough to see him a couple of times that year, and he reminded me very much of Tony Gwynn. Obviously, not as developed as a hitter, but he possessed a very mature approach at the plate. Ackley doesn’t go up to the plate trying to hit a homer every time, he just tries to put a good swing on the ball, and get on base. He has an amazing lefty stroke that is quick through the zone.
At the start of the 2011 season, Ackley headed back to Tacoma. In 66 games there, he made it obvious that he was ready for the majors, hitting .303. On June 17, 2011, Ackley made his major league debut. When i heard that Ackley was called up, I made it my first priority to find tickets to the game. I ended up sitting in Section 323 on the first base line. There was a different feel in the usually disinterested Safeco Field that night. The Mariners were playing the Phillies, and Roy Oswalt was taking the mound for the Phils. In Ackley’s first at-bat, with Phillies fans chanting, “OVER RATED,” Ackley singled up the middle. His major-league career just took off from there.
Ackley played 90 games for the Mariners in 2011. He batted .273 with a .348 OBP and a .417 slugging percentage. He also had a OPS+ of 117, and looked solid at second base, committing only six errors and assisting in 49 double plays.
The sky is the limit for Ackley. Scouts are still doubting his ability to play second base, but as long as he stays passable there, the Mariners have their second basemen for the next era.
Ackley could at some point turn in a MVP caliber season, but he’s not especially a power hitter. I think that at his peak he’ll hit about 20 home runs with a .300 average and an OBP around .415. If Ackley stays at his pace from last year, which is actually a legitimate estimate, he will be nearly a 5 WAR player in a full season. Now if only more of his teammates were any good…
***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Sam on Twitter.***
Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback. You can follow us onTwitter and become a fan on Facebook . To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click hereand follow the link at the top of our homepage.