Ackley looks to improve on offense

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.comFebruary 4, 2013 

There is little question about who will be the starting second baseman for the Seattle Mariners when they open the 2013 season.

Dustin Ackley was drafted and converted to that position to become a foundation player for the organization.

So while the Mariners know who is going to be their second baseman for the foreseeable future, the bigger question is, which Ackley will they see this season.

Will it be the Ackley who was called up in 2011 and looked like a .300 hitter with power to all fields? Or will it be the Ackley of 2012 who was inconsistent and out of sync at the plate?

THE PAST

Last season was a disaster for Ackley offensively. With high expectations, he hit .226 with .294 on-base and .328 slugging percentages. Ackley had 22 doubles in 668 plate appearances, compared to 16 doubles in 376 plate appearances in 2011. Perhaps more shocking was Ackley’s strikeout total last season: 124.

“He’s probably never had a season like that in his entire career,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “Sometimes a year like that can be good for a player. It makes you stronger.”

Looking back at Ackley’s college and minor league stats, there was no year close to that poor statistically. He has always hit at every level of baseball.

The Mariners think the reason for Ackley’s recent struggles may be that he played most of last season with a large bone spur in his left ankle. The spur is something that he developed in college, but it grew to be a problem.

“He was really unable to stay on his back leg and drive off his back leg because of the spur,” Mariners trainer Rick Griffin said. “… He would walk into the training room, we couldn’t tell if he was a 23-year old or a 90-year old.”

But last season wasn’t a complete loss for Ackley. Defensively, he continued to progress. He was named one of three finalists for the Gold Glove award at second base.

THE PRESENT

Ackley had surgery the day after the 2012 season ended and is participating in full offseason workouts. Griffin said he will have no restrictions when spring training opens in two weeks.

More importantly, the absence of the bone spur has allowed Ackley to have better workouts in the offseason, like when he went to Safeco Field a few weeks ago for workouts with Brendan Ryan.

Wedge didn’t come out and say it, but it appears likely Ackley will be hitting in the leadoff spot.

“I’m not going to sit here and say he’s going to be our leadoff hitter, but when I think of him, that’s what I think of first,” Wedge said.

“He wasn’t in the leadoff spot very long last year and didn’t have a very good year by most people’s standards offensively, but he still scored 85 runs.”

THE FUTURE

While the Mariners have penciled in Ackley as their second baseman of the future, there has been some debate about moving him back to the outfield, specifically left field.

Teammate Kyle Seager has also been profiled as more of a second baseman than the current third base spot where he starts. Also, two of the top prospects in the organization – Nick Franklin and Stefen Romero – could play the position.

Franklin dominated at Double A Jackson, hitting .322 with an .896 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS). He was promoted to Triple A midway through last season and his numbers weren’t quite as dominant. But he still figures largely in the Mariners’ plans as a player or trade chip.

Romero was the Mariners’ minor league player of the year for 2012 after hitting .352 (167-for-474) with 85 runs and 64 extra-base hits. He had 23 homers and 101 RBI in 116 games with Single A High Desert and Double A Jackson combined.

Romero won’t just play second base this season. He will also play third base and left field to maximize his chances to move up the ranks.

Up-and-coming talent could force a change in the Mariners’ plans for second base, but for now Ackley is at the position and isn’t moving.

General manager Jack Zduriencik shrugged off any such talk about a position move for Ackley at the winter meetings, mentioning his defensive progression.

“We think his bat plays better at second base,” Zduiencik said. “He’s our second baseman. We think he’s a big part of our future.”

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish

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