Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Will Dustin Ackley ever hit?
By David Schoenfield
One thing everybody was sure about when Dustin Ackley was drafted out of North Carolina: He would hit. Everybody knew he would hit. He could run, he'd hit 22 home runs his junior season and while it wasn't clear what his professional position would be (he'd played center field before Tommy John surgery moved him to first base as a junior), everyone knew he would hit as a professional.
Here's a story by Larry Stone of The Seattle Times after the Mariners drafted Ackley second overall in 2009, after the Nationals selected Stephen Strasburg:
Here's a partial list of left-handed hitters to whom Dustin Ackley, the Great New Mariner Hope, has been compared by various scouts, coaches and analysts:
Johnny Damon. Chase Utley. Darin Erstad. Jacoby Ellsbury. Tony Gwynn. Wade Boggs. George Brett.
Ackley didn't tear up the minors (.280, 16 home runs in 200 games) and while he did hit well as a rookie in 2011 (.273/.348/.417), he was terrible last year (.226/.294/.328). He only hit two home runs at Safeco Field, and while he hit 10 home runs on the road, he hit just .224. He hit .255 against fastballs, which put him in the 15th percentile of all major league regulars, and if you can't hit fastballs, good luck.
He struck out 124 times -- an 18.6 percent strikeout rate that ranked 73rd among qualified regulars, putting him right in the middle of the pack. He's a very patient hitter and his swing percentage (39.5 percent) tied for 10th-lowest among regulars, an approach similar to hitters like Ben Zobrist (37.4 percent), Martin Prado (37.8 percent), Mike Trout (40.1 percent) and Jimmy Rollins (40.5 percent), to name a few. When he did swing, his contact rate was pretty good -- he ranked 31st. He struck out looking in 31 percent of those 124 strikeouts, above the average for regular players of 23 percent.
So there's your profile. Good approach, pretty good contact hitter, maybe too passive at times.
In 2013, the results are even worse. In 47 plate appearances, he's hitting .114/.170/.114; the slugging percentage is the same as his batting average, which means he doesn't have an extra-base hit. At least his defense at second base -- once a question mark -- is good.
Ackley had changed his swing in the offseason, but now comes this story from Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune that he's going back to something more like last year.
All that has changed is the movement. Ackley still has a wider base in his feet than last season and a slightly open stance. He still gets to the same hitting position. There just isn't all the movement in front of it.
"What I was doing (Saturday), it felt like the same thing without having to do a bunch of the timing before it," Ackley said. "It’s still trying to accomplish the same things. It's really not that big of a difference. It might be 6 inches from where I started before. It's not like I’m changing my swing. It's still the same swing, but I just don't have the timing of getting it started."
That story makes a point that Ackley had a hard-hit single on Saturday and another on Sunday (for his first RBI of the season).
On Tuesday he went 0-for-3. Two singles were big news for the kid once compared to George Brett.
Ackley is now 25 years old. Time is running out on the likelihood of him becoming a star, although positive thinkers will point out Ackley's solid 2011, a foot injury that may have sapped his power last year and how Chase Utley didn't have his breakout season until he was 26.
It's only 13 games. Ackley has five hits and three were infield singles. It's too early to make any conclusions about 2013, but the concerns are legitimate. He looked like a .300 hitter coming out of college, but at this point I'm not sure he'll last the season as the Mariners' starting second baseman.