While the Nationals decide whether or not last year’s No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg needs any time in the minors, the Mariners are definitely sending No. 2 pick Dustin Ackley to the minors and he’s also learning a new position.
Ackley played primarily first base at the University of North Carolina after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow, but clearly has the range and athleticism to handle a tougher position now that he’s fully recovered.
Center field would probably be the first choice, but because the Mariners already have world-class fly-catcher Franklin Gutierrez there Ackley is getting a try at second base. And so far so good, according to infield coach Mike Brumley:
He has really come along well. A lot of guys in our minor league system have spent a lot of time with him and they have done such a good job that it looks like he fits there. He’s very athletic, quick, a smooth-type player, so maybe he doesn’t look as quick as he really is. It’s kind of like hitting. He has such a smooth transition in anything he does. He has great timing with his body. Now, it’s a matter of game experience. It is very encouraging and he is going to be a joy to watch.
Ackley can always shift to the outfield if the transition to second base hits a snag, but it makes sense to see if he can handle the much tougher position first. Not only would his bat be significantly better compared to second baseman than corner outfielders, Ackley sticking at second base would allow the Mariners to fill the lesser defensive position he might otherwise have played with another big bat.
Plus, while Gutierrez is signed through 2014 the Mariners could easily clear room for Ackley at second base by trading incumbent Jose Lopez (or simply declining his $4.5 million option for 2011). Lopez is a solid player, but he’s hardly a long-term building block and there were already some rumors that the Mariners shopped him during the offseason.