The Woes of Dustin Ackley
When Dustin Ackley was selected with the second overall pick in the 2009 MLB amateur draft, Seattle Mariners fans envisioned the second basemen becoming the cornerstone of an offense that set record lows in many offensive categories.
The rookie tore up pitching in the Arizona fall league and his rise through the minor leagues was unprecedented.
In minor league standards, he was the real deal.
As the big league club mounted loss after loss during the 2011 season fans began clamoring for the Ackley’s call-up. The only question that halted his arrival was whether or not he could successfully make the transition to second base at the major league level.
It was determined Ackley was capable of holding down the everyday duties at second base and rightfully so; he’s played an exceptional second base.
He was able to handle major league pitching to the tune of a .273 average and ended up sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2011.
Arguably, the North Carolina product was the best hitter in the Mariners lineup for the majority of his 90-game debut in a Mariners uniform.
2012 was supposed to be the year that he took it to the next level and make that critical rookie to sophomore step that sometimes defines a player’s major league career.
So far, the results have been disappointing.
The strikeouts are coming at an alarming rate.
Surprisingly, Ackley has been set down via strikeout 66 times in 275 at-bats. In similar fashion last season, he struck out 79 times in 333 at-bats. There hasn’t been any progression.
Ackley has never been prone to striking out at any level previous to the major leagues.
In three seasons at North Carolina, he struck out just 82 times in 840 at-bats.
Throughout his rise through the farm system Ackley had 501 at-bats, striking out only 79 times. Those are astounding numbers that highly contributed to his quick promotion.
At every level, he has been praised for his ability to make contact. It’s a skill that not many players can hone on a consistent basis but he has mastered the art of putting the ball in play.
That being said, Ackley just needs to adjust.
His hands are quick enough to square around on that inside pitch, it’s just a matter of seeing the ball and adjusting to the tough pitching he’s facing.
What we haven’t seen as much of out of Ackley is his ability to foul off pitches on the outer half – something we saw a lot of last season. He seems to be waving at that pitch a lot more, but those are adjustments that can be made in time.
Don’t expect him to continue to strikeout at this rate but the strikeouts are a direct result of his offensive woes at this point.
Season long struggle
Strikeouts aside, Ackley’s offensive numbers have fallen across the board.
In 90 games last season he posted a .273 batting average, .348 on-base percentage, and a .417 slugging percentage. Very respectable numbers for a rookie.
So far this season, his averages has dropped to .244/.319/.338.
This profound fall off has gone unexplained.
After batting leadoff, then second, for the majority of the season, Mariners skipper Eric Wedge has dropped Ackley to the seven spot, and most recently, the eight spot.
To take some of the pressure off of him so he can find his groove and get back to lacing balls all over the field the way he did last season. But a breakthrough doesn’t seem close.
The month of June has been especially frustrating.
Stuck in a season-long 0-for-13 slump, he’s hitting just .213 (16-for-73) this month and has just four homeruns and 23 RBIs on the year.
We see players go through stretches like this every season – it happens to the best of hitters – but as the Mariners continue to struggle scoring runs, more scrutiny has been placed on the 1st round pick.
This (hopefully) is just a bump in the road for Ackley.
Pitchers are adjusting to his hitting style, hammering pitches in on his hands and getting him to flail at pitches on the outer half.
He’s been able to hit at every level he’s played at and I have full faith that these are just growing pains that will sort themselves out in the batting cage.
As pitchers adjust to him, he needs to be able to counter with adjustments of his own.
In his second year, he’s already a player that the entire organization and fan base is leaning on to provide a spark for this anemic offense.
The positive is that Ackley has yet to let his frustration spread throughout the clubhouse and according to his manager he’s doing all the things he needs to do to get back to the level that we all know he is capable of.
In the midst of 23 straight scoreless innings, the Mariners need Ackley’s bat to wake up from it’s season long slumber.
Fingers are crossed.