By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
The Seattle Mariners won’t say Dustin Ackley has seen the last of his time as an outfielder.
But the Mariners’ 40-man roster lists Ackley, drafted last June as an outfielder, as infielder.
And on the practice fields these days at the Mariners’ training complex in Peoria, Ariz., Ackley is getting quite a workout at second base.
That’s the plan for now, to give Ackley, the second overall pick in last year’s draft, a heavy dose of instruction at second and see how it works out. Darrin Garner, the Mariners’ minor league infield coordinator, works with Ackley daily.
“We have a nice, structured program for him and he’s progressing very well at second base,” said Pedro Grifol, the Mariners’ minor league director.
The Mariners drafted Ackley as an outfielder but, looking ahead to what could be a fast track to the big leagues, second base could be his landing spot. Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez is signed through 2013, and with current second baseman Jose Lopez’ signed only through 2010, it’s not so far-fetched to think Ackley will wind up at second. After his one-on-one time with Garner this winter, Ackley is expected to get most (if not all) of his playing time at second base at spring training.
While it may seem like the Mariners are taking an all-in approach with this transition, that’s not quite the case yet. The Mariners already believe Ackley can play the outfield well but they need to know whether he can play at the big-league level on the infield.
“We don’t know how much time he’s going to get in the outfield in spring training,” Grifol said. “Obviously, he always can get better (as an outfielder), but we feel it’s something he does pretty well. But we’re going to give second base a shot. He looks good, he’s real athletic and he’s balanced.
“All indications are that he’s going to be able to do this. But he’s going to have to take it into the game. He’ll have to turn a double play with a guy bearing down on him. Hopefully all the instruction and all the work he’s putting in will carry over when the games start. We think it will, but he’s got to do it.”
Mini-camp, baseball style
Not too many years ago, close to 90 major and minor league players would work out voluntarily at the Mariners’ training complex in the post-holiday weeks leading up spring training.
It’s not that way anymore, partly because the economy has kept many guys at their winter homes longer instead of renting rooms and apartments in Peoria (we’re talking minor league pay, for the most part) and partly because many are using personal trainers and private gyms to work out on their own through the winter.
This winter, the Mariners will conduct an invitation-only mini-camp from Jan.31-March 4 for 41 players from the Class A level to major league spring training invitees.
“This is a time that I felt was critical in a player’s development, where his aptitude and attention span is at the highest level,” Grifol said.
Grifol believes players’ minds and bodies are more receptive to instruction at this time of the year compared with, for example, the instructional league in October.
“It can be tough for a player to motivate himself for an instructional league game after he’s come from a full season at High Desert,” Grifol said.
Each player will meet on the first day with the mini-camp staff — Mariners’ minor league instructors — to outline a plan for improvement.
“From there it will be a progression leading up to spring training and the season,” Grifol said. “We’ll go through every single part of a player’s game — hitting, baserunning, defense, arm strength, mental skills. We’re going to break down his whole game and identify the goals for the end. Once the meetings are finished, the priority will be strength and conditioning early, and then baseball activity will increase as the month goes on.”
Hitting, fielding, yoga
Mariners shortstop Jack Wilson is healthy again after finishing the season barely able to walk. He’d dealt with hamstring issues since being acquired July 29 from the Pirates, and he missed the final 17 games because of a bruised right heel.
Mariners trainer Rick Griffin said Wilson is working out at his home in Southern California, and among his regimen are two sessions of yoga per week.
“It’s something we felt would be good for him,” Griffin said. “As you get older you lose some of your flexibility, and he’s not the most flexible guy in the world.”
In fact, Griffin said he has considered having a yoga instructor work with the Mariners at spring training.
“But I don’t think it’ll be hot yoga,” Griffin said. “We don’t want to wear out the guys before they get on the practice field.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com\marinersblog