Ackley's adjustments starting in AFL
First-round pick to play all three outfield positions, DH
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The first of many adjustments Dustin Ackley faces during his journey from being the second overall Draft selection to becoming a mainstay in the Mariners' outfield occurred Tuesday afternoon.
The Peoria Javelinas played their Arizona Fall League opener, and Ackley was not in the starting lineup, something he could not recall happening when he was physically able to play.
But he smiled and said it was no big deal.
"It's not like there are any favorites," Ackley said before the Javelinas dropped a 17-4 decision to the Surprise Rafters. "[Not playing] is just another adjustment you have to make. I'll wait until it's my turn."
His turn was to arrive Wednesday afternoon in a rematch against the Rafters in Surprise, Ariz., where he's slated to play center field.
The game plan for the 21-year-old Ackley during the six-week, 32-game schedule is for him to play all three outfield positions and make a few appearances as the designated hitter.
"I told him we'll move him around in order to get him some at-bats," Javelinas manager Kevin Bradshaw said. "We have a lot of outfielders here."
Center fielder Lorenzo Cain of the Brewers is one of them and because he's listed as one of the five "priority" players on the team, he must play at least four games a week. That would limit the amount of playing time Ackley gets in center field.
Ackley, a .410 hitter during his three All-America seasons at North Carolina, is among the top Mariners prospects playing in the AFL this season.
The others are right-handed relievers Phillippe Aumont, Josh Fields and Anthony Varvaro, left-handed starter Nick Hill, infielders Juan Diaz and outfielder Joe Dunigan. Shortstop Carlos Triunfel will miss the first two weeks of AFL play while completing his recovery from a broken leg suffered in April but will replace Diaz on the roster when ready.
The Mariners have specific goals for each of the players and are eager to see how Ackley performs in his introduction to professional baseball. Ackley, the No. 2 Draft pick in June right behind right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg, reached agreement on a $7.5 million contract about 15 minutes before the Aug. 17 signing deadline.
He has not played a "meaningful" game since the College World Series and spent the past three weeks at the instructional league, concentrating on his outfield defense. He was a regular outfielder before undergoing Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow between his sophomore and junior seasons at North Carolina.
He has the speed to play center field, but needs to rebuild his arm strength.
"All of these kids out here have things they have to work on," Bradshaw said. "With Dustin, maybe we can work on his throwing mechanics a little bit and get his arm a little stronger."
The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder already has a left-handed swing that could accelerate his rise through the Seattle Minor League system, which is expected to begin at Double-A West Tennessee next season.
"He has a great swing," said Gary Ward, the Javelinas' hitting coach. "He stays behind the ball well, hits to the other fields and also is capable of pulling the ball. I think his main focus right now is to stay back on the ball and let his hands do the work."
Ackley said he's trying to gain weight and strength, which could boost his power.
"Strength is important for any player," he said. "I had all that time off after my Tommy John surgery. The ligament was taken from my hamstring, so for two months I couldn't do anything. I'm still recovering from that."
Ackley peaked at around 195 pounds and said that's where he hopes to be when Spring Training begins in February.
"It shouldn't be too hard to get there," he said. "I try to eat a lot, but it doesn't seem to help."
During some of this "spare" time, Ackley is working with James Clifford, the Mariners' Minor League strength and conditioning coordinator.
"We're not asking these guys to get stronger while they're playing," Minor League director Pedro Grifol said, "but in Ackley's case, he'll be spending a lot of time learning our system and technique in the weight room. That will get him off to a good start on the offseason program."
In the meantime, Ackley is taking it all in -- on and off the field.
"I have been given a great opportunity to come out here, play in this league and get a chance to prove myself," he said. "Hopefully I can do that. I want to improve on every aspect of the game."
That shouldn't take long.
"He'll probably be on a faster track than most, just because of his track record and the maturity he has," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.