By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Dustin Ackley, Second Baseman, Seattle Mariners
2011 season: 90 G, 333 AB, .273 BA, 6 HR, 36 RBI, 6 SB, .766 OPS
When Ackley was taken with the second overall pick in 2009 – one spot after Stephen Strasburg – it wasn’t because he had astronomical potential. Instead, it was because Ackley was a relatively polished product coming out of college and a player who would move quickly through the minors. The only thing that he really needed to work on was his position. He was a first baseman and part-time outfielder in college, but soon after signing him, the Mariners decided to give him a shot at second base.
Even with the position change, Ackley cruised through the M’s system before being promoted last year. And a funny thing happened when he got to the Majors: Ackley, a guy who was supposed to be without a ton of upside, showed quite a bit of upside. He demonstrated the ability to hit for average, great patience for a young player (40 walks compared to 79 strikeouts) and decent pop. The six homers in 90 games might make the last part seem like an overstatement, but he also collected 16 doubles and seven triples during that time. Further, while Ackley isn’t exactly a burner, he proved to be a wily baserunner, stealing six bases without being caught.
Perhaps more impressively, Ackley showed that he was able to play second base proficiently. Throughout his minor league career, scouts continued to question whether he could remain at the position, but he made it clear in Seattle that he can handle the job. His range was solid, as was his ability to turn the double play. It wouldn’t be wise to bet on any Gold Gloves in the future, but he can become a firmly above-average fielder if he continues to work at it.
Ackley’s never going to hit 40 homers and he’s never going to steal 40 bases, but with his game, he doesn’t have to. He’s good at so many different facets of baseball that he can provide value through his well-roundedness. As a second baseman who could hit .300 with 15 homers and 25 steals – all while getting on base at a decent clip – Ackley would be one of the better players in the Majors. He’s only 24, too, meaning he still has a chance to improve beyond those projections. The Mariners will have a hard time competing with the Angels and Rangers this year, but with a young infield core of Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero, their time is not too far off.
Next up on March 17: New York Mets