March 17, 2010 in Sports

M’s thrilled with Ackley’s progress

No. 2 overall pick in ’09 learning to play second
Associated Press
 

COMING UP

Tonight: Texas vs. Seattle, 7:05

Radio: 920-AM

PEORIA, Ariz. – The Seattle Mariners were attracted to Dustin Ackley by his magic bat.

But now that they see the former North Carolina star’s work ethic when it comes to defense, they are excited about the 2009 No. 2 overall draft selection all over again.

Ackley, who played outfield and then first base with the Tar Heels after undergoing Tommy John surgery, has been hard at work for more than three months adjusting to second base, where he can add punch at a preferable position and perhaps reach Seattle quicker.

Ackley is headed to West Tennessee this season – he was optioned to Seattle’s Double-A affiliate on Tuesday – but is showing that could be a temporary situation. He’s looked smooth in the field and typically at home at the plate, driving in a run with a sacrifice fly Monday against Arizona and turning on another pitch that missed an extra base hit by inches.

“I like what I see,” Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu said. “He’s an aggressive kid at the plate and he’s played all over the diamond. He was a shortstop in high school. We really like the bat and I like what I see so far in his footwork at second. We’re going to be patient, but we’re throwing a lot at him this spring and he’s handling it well.”

Ackley played outfield in the Arizona Fall League, but was in Peoria soon after, working with Seattle infield guru Mike Brumley on approach, footwork and anticipation.

“He’s had a real crash course and he’s had a great spring,” Brumley said. “You can push smart and talented people. And the way he’s adjusting to second-base life, after a few weeks, it was hard to pick him out of a drill from people who had played the position for years. It’s going to be fun watching him develop.”

Ackley is happy with his progress but knows the games are yet to come.

“In the outfield, you’re getting balls every once in a while. This takes a lot more focus,” he said. “You’re thinking about bag coverage, double plays, cut-offs … . it’s an adjustment and it will take time to become second nature.”

His offense will lead the way. Ackley hit .417 for the Tar Heels last season and .500 in the College World Series. In the Arizona Fall League, playing against the top prospects in baseball, he hit .315 and drove in 12 runs in 20 games.

“If he makes a mistake in the field, you don’t have to tell him about it twice,” Brumley said. “And you can see that same quality at the plate. He has that feel for the game that makes things easier.”

So far, Ackley has struggled with three hits in 19 at-bats in limited duty. Just getting used to seeing good pitches is taking time.

“Guys come right at you here and they come with all their pitches. They know how to pitch you and you have to stay back and make your aggressiveness work for you,” he said. “Every time I go up there it’s exciting.”

Ackley’ father, John, was a catcher and a third-round pick by the Boston Red Sox in 1979 but never appeared in a major league game. The son is still a little star-struck sharing a clubhouse with the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Ichiro Suzuki and Felix Hernandez. But that is gradually melting away, and the realization that he’ll be a Mariner for good one day soon is beginning to sink in.

“This is my first year. I’ve never played more than 70 games in a season and that alone is an adjustment, never mind going to second,” he said.

“But (I’d like to get to the majors) in a year or two, I’m definitely not shooting any lower than that. I try not to overstate things, but I don’t want to sell myself short. If I listen and learn and play as well as I can, I can get there.”

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