It’s about time; Mariners can expect big year from Ackley


Seattle Mariners’ Dustin Ackley (left) and Michael Saunders (right) allow a hit to drop at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., May 22, 2013.

Seattle Mariners fans are familiar with the notion that talent doesn’t come around often and, when it does, it’s important to hold on to it as long as possible. 

 Dustin Ackley is due for a long-awaited breakout season and in 2014 he will finally define himself as a legitimate leadoff hitter.

 Since Ackley was called up from the minors as a second baseman in June of 2011, there has been an immense amount of pressure on him to be a great hitter.  The Mariners did not draft Ackley for his defense, but for his big bat. As a prospect, Ackley was compared to Johnny Damon, Chase Utley, Jacoby Ellsbury, Wade Boggs, and George Brett, players with whom any hitter would enjoy being mentioned in the same category.  


But so far Ackley’s hitting is more in line with a younger version of Skip Schumaker and in the grand scheme of things he’s been just flat-out disappointing to watch. In fact, since Ackley entered the league in 2011, his wins above replacement plummeted from 3.7 in 2011 to 1.1 in 2013 season, according to  That’s a pretty significant drop for a young MLB hitter within a 2.5 year time period. 

 Unfortunately, Ackley also hasn’t been able to stay consistently healthy with the Mariners.  In 2012, Ackley dealt with nagging ankle injuries that led to multiple problems involving fundamentals, specifically in his picture-perfect style swing. 


Entering the 2013 season healthy, Ackley hoped his swing would come around, but after a slow start he found his batting average topping out at only .205 and the Mariners decided to demote the young infielder to Triple-A to work on a new swing and approach at the plate. 


A move to the outfield prompted a change in Ackley’s defensive mindset so it’s no wonder his batting average was only .253 overall last season, including a .304 average after the All-Star break. Considering the defensive transformation and being demoted to the minors in the middle of the season, that’s pretty darn good. 


It’s no secret his numbers haven’t matched the standards a first round and second overall pick would translate too, but Ackley is poised for a solid 2014 season. In Tacoma, he posted huge numbers, including a .365 batting average in just 25 games for the Rainiers. Those are the type of breakthrough numbers the Mariners are hoping he can consistently translate into success at the MLB level.


Kansas City’s Alex Gordon had a similar track record to Ackley when he first entered the league in 2007. Gordon was also a number two overall pick who didn’t see success immediately. Gordon struggled early in his career and was constantly demoted to the minors before making the switch from infield to outfield. Now, he is a two-time All-Star and looking to improve on his 20 homerun season in 2013.  If Ackley stays healthy this season, there’s no reason he can’t start seeing the same success that Gordon now has. 


The Mariners seem happy with Ackley in leftfield at the early stages of spring training, allowing him a full off-season and spring to make better reads on fly balls and improve his arm strength.  Baseball is an extremely mental game and if a player overthinks at the plate, his number of strikeouts tends to increase. In interview with the Larry Stone from The Seattle Times, Ackley said his mind wasn’t in the right place last season and that’s what really screwed him up. 


“I’ve told people, I don’t care how good your swing is, if you’re thinking about stuff, and if your mind’s not 100 percent all into what you’re doing, you’re not going to be successful,” Ackley said. 


During the second half of last season, Ackley finally started to get his mindset right. The improvement on his swing at the plate translated to more hits, along with more extra base hits. In August, Ackley caught fire, batting 30 for 77, good for a .390 average. Perhaps even more exciting, was that his slugging percentage and OPS were through the roof. 

If Ackley can translate some of that power to his sweet swing, particularly on the fastball, for 160 games, he’s capable of putting up huge numbers, even at a pitcher’s ballpark like Safeco Field. It’s realistic to believe Ackley can bat .300, hit 20 homeruns, and drive in 80 runs; after all, he’s only 26-years-old.