Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak answering the call
If you follow me at all, you know that I’ve been on the case of Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak for some time now. I called for Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zdriencik to trade Ackley last year, and while I haven’t been ready to embrace letting Smoak go, I did say this spring that this season is both of their last chances with the M’s.
The Good News? Both Ackley and Smoak appear to be living up their potential — FINALLY.
During the spring, the Mariners‘ second baseman-turned-left fielder batted an impressive .382 with 16 RBIs, which led the team. Among the 26 hits Dustin Ackley had this spring were seven doubles, one triple and two homers. Not too shabby for a guy who was struggling to hit .200 less than a year ago.
Ackley has been able to carry that spring season into the regular season so far. Through the first four games of the season, Ackley is hitting .313 with four RBIs. Both are nice numbers in this still very young season.
Clearly, though, Ackley is still adjusting to left field. There was a play in Anaheim that he should have made on a deep fly ball to left. Ackley didn’t take a good route to the ball and it fell in. Fortunately, the miscue did not hurt the Mariners, but it’s worth noting the guy is in a new position defensively and there will be growing pains.
I’ve given Smoak a lot of slack in the rope so far in his career — probably more than most others — but it looks as if he’s going to finally prove me right to believe in the Freak from Goose Creek.
Smoak also appears to be listening to the advice of Lloyd McClendon when it comes to his approach at the plate. In the past, Justin would swing for the fence all too often. The result was a lot of strikeouts and a low batting average. McClendon has told Smoak this spring that he believes he can lead the majors in doubles.
Brilliant move, Mr. McClendon.
Focusing on hitting line drives instead of dingers paid off for Smoak in Spring Training. Smoak hit .292 this spring. He had 19 hits and six of them were doubles and he still wound up hitting two homeruns.
That’s the thing about hitting dingers: You can’t try to hit them — they just happen. Smoak is figuring that out now.
Like Ackley, spring success for Smoak has carried into the regular season. He’s hitting .353 with two doubles and two homeruns. Additionally, he leads the M’s with seven RBIs. He’s been ultra clutch coming up with six RBIs in two at-bats where Robinson Cano was walked intentionally in front of him.
New M’s Battle Cry: Walk Cano, Get Smoaked.
Other Noteworthy Hitters
Abraham Almonte, who did not impress in spring training, certainly has so far in the regular season. McClendon has been as high on the speedy youngster as I have, and it’s finally showed up in the first few games.
Almonte has hit .294 so far on this young season batting leadoff. More impressive is his .400 OB%, which is exactly what you want in a leadoff guy. It’s amazingly impressive to see such plate discipline in such a young player.
Defensively, Almonte has been very good. He took a chance in Game 1 against the A’s that backfired and led to a triple. Almonte also made a base-running error in the same game. Those types of mistakes are the kinds of growing pains you have to expect when you run a young player out their daily, however.
Robinson Cano has been fun to watch as well. However, the Mariners have 28 RBIs on the season, and Cano has just two of em. Additionally, Seattle has six homers while Cano has zero.
What Cano has done is hit .375, take walks, set the table for Smoak and be a leader on the field. Just having him in the lineup has had a profound effect on every other player on the team. He brings confidence and confidence brings success.
The guy who has surprisingly been struggling is Kyle Seager. Kyle Seager has been by far the most consistent young M’s hitter over the past three seasons.
Seager hit just .191 during the spring. Whatever his demons are, they have followed him into the regular season as well where he’s managed just .091 so far.
It’s probably too early to hit the panic button on Kyle, but McClendon has made it clear that he’s not afraid to go get someone else if he thinks you aren’t cutting it.
Seager also missed a hit-and-run sign in the Angels series, which led to Smoak being thrown out easily at second base. That’s not going to win any points with McClendon, either.
Exactly how much rope he gives Seager remains to be seen.