There is little question who will be the starting second baseman for the Seattle Mariners when they open the 2013 season. Dustin Ackley was drafted and converted to that position to become a foundation player for the organization.
So while the Mariners know who is going to be their second baseman for the foreseeable future, the bigger question is which Dustin Ackley will they see this season.
Will it be the Ackley, who was called up in 2011 and looked like a .300 hitter with gap power to all fields? Or will it be the Ackley of last season who was inconsistent and out of sync at the plate?
Last season was a disaster for Ackley offensively. With high expectations of success, he hit .226 with just a .294 on-base percentage and a .328 slugging percentage. He had just 22 doubles in 668 plate appearances, in comparison to the year before when he had 16 doubles in 376 plate appearances. Perhaps even more shocking, Ackley struck out 124 times.
“He’s probably never had a season like that in his entire career,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.
Looking back at Ackley’s college and minor-league stats, there wasn’t a season even close to that poor. He’s hit at every level of baseball.
“Sometimes a year like that can be good for a player,” Wedge said. “It makes you stronger.”
The Mariners said there was a reason for the struggles. Ackley played most of the season with a large bone spur in his left ankle. It’s something he developed in college, but it grew to be a problem.
“He was really unable to stay on his back leg and drive off his back leg because of the spur,” Mariners trainer Rick Griffin said. “On day games, he would walk into the training room, we couldn’t tell if he was a 23-year-old or a 90-year-old.”
Ackley underwent surgery the day after the season ended. He’s already 100 percent, the Mariners said, and is participating in full offseason workouts. Griffin said Ackley will have no restrictions at spring training.
More important, the absence of the bone spur has allowed Ackley to have better offseason workouts. Ackley came to Safeco Field a few weeks ago for workouts with shortstop Brendan Ryan.
“He looked good,” Wedge said.
There has been some talk about moving him to the outfield, specifically left field. Why? Well, teammate Kyle Seager also profiles more as a second baseman than the current third base spot he starts at. Also two of the organization’s top prospects — Nick Franklin and Stefen Romero — could be big-league second basemen.
Franklin dominated at Class AA Jackson, hitting .322 with an .896 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He was promoted to Class AAA Tacoma midseason and the numbers weren’t quite as dominant, but he still figures in the Mariners’ future plan as a player or trade chip. Romero was the Mariners’ minor league player of the year last season after hitting .352 (167-for-474) with 85 runs scored, 64 extra-base hits — including 23 home runs — and 101 RBI in 116 games combined between Class A High Desert and Class AA Jackson.
Romero won’t just play second base this season. He will also see time at third base and left field to maximize his chance to move up in Seattle’s system.
So there is coming talent that could force its way into the Mariners’ plans in the near future. But for now, Ackley is at second base and isn’t moving. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik shrugged off any such talk about a position move for Ackley at the winter meetings, mentioning his defensive progression. At the end of last season, Ackley was named one of three finalists for the Gold Glove award at the position.
“We think his bat plays better at second base,” Zduiencik said. “He’s our second baseman. We think he’s a big part of our future.”