Some interesting news came out of Las Vegas on Wednesday when Tacoma Rainiers radio announcer Mike Curto tweeted that Dustin Ackley was penciled into the starting lineup in … left field.
That’s a surprise, considering the Seattle Mariners drafted Ackley as an outfielder out of the University of North Carolina with the No. 2 overall pick in 2009, then spent the better part of two years converting him to a second baseman. To his credit, Ackley became a better-than-average second baseman, earning a Gold Glove nomination last season.
But with rookie Nick Franklin playing well at second base since being called up last month, the Mariners – specifically general manager Jack Zduriencik – called Ackley on Tuesday morning to ask if he would like to try some outfield while he was with Triple-A Tacoma.
“I think it’s good for Dustin,” Zduriencik said. “Versatility is a good thing. He was wide open. That’s great.”
Ackley doesn’t really have much of a choice in the matter.
In an interview on Sunday with The News Tribune, Ackley didn’t seem quite as “wide open” about changing positions.
“That would be tough,” he said then. “That wouldn’t be ideal. I’ve worked hard there (second base) the last two or three years. It would be a tough transition. It would be something that might take me a while to get used to another position.”
Ackley is far from the type of player to make waves or complain.
“But if I have to, if that’s what it takes, I’ve done it before, I’ve changed positions to second, I guess changing to somewhere else wouldn’t be something I couldn’t do,” he said.
Ackley took fly balls in center field and left field before games Tuesday and Wednesday. The Mariners sent minor league outfield coordinator Brant Brown to join the Rainiers and work with Ackley on a daily basis.
This is far from a permanent position switch. The Mariners are going to take a serious look at Ackley in the outfield to see if he can help there, but he can always go back to second base.
Ackley is expected to play the outfield most games. The Mariners are using a rotation of Raul Ibañez, Endy Chavez and Jason Bay in left field. Their combined age is 110. Seattle also has no outfield prospects coming up through the minors.
“We’ll see him play the outfield and just see how it goes,” Zduriencik said. “We know what he’s done at second base. We’ll let him get his feet wet in the outfield. It will be good for him. … But I think as long as guys have experience playing other positions, it can benefit the player, it can benefit the organization, and that’s the purpose in it.”
The move appears to be a response to how well Franklin has played at second base. The Mariners have a logjam of second baseman with Franklin, Ackley and Stefen Romero, who also is being converted to the outfield. Romero will play right field and some first base. But Zduriencik said the moves are not a direct reaction to Franklin’s success.
“We’ve actually talked about this for awhile, ever since we’ve had Dustin,” Zduriencik said.
Ackley is familiar with the outfield. As a freshman and sophomore, he started a handful of games in left field and center field. He played outfield in summer leagues as well, but that was cut short when he suffered a ligament tear in his right arm, leading to Tommy John surgery.
Mariners director of amateur scouting Tom McNamara saw him play in the outfield a few times.
“I saw him as a freshman and a sophomore,” McNamara said. “The year we took him, he actually played – I couldn’t tell you the exact number of games and innings – but I’ve seen him play center field before. I’ve only seen him play center field and first base.”
So, can he handle a transition to left field?
“He’ll be fine out there,” McNamara said.
The big question is Ackley’s arm strength. It’s one of the reasons he was converted from outfielder to a second baseman. He doesn’t have a strong arm but it can be hidden in left field.
The Mariners signed first-round draft pick DJ Peterson, along with 12 other draftees. Peterson, a slugging third baseman, was selected with the 12th overall pick out of the University of New Mexico. With the new slotting system, signing players is a much quicker process. Peterson took batting practice with the Mariners on Wednesday, blasting a few homers. He confirmed that he will be heading to Everett to join the AquaSox. … First baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales was out of the lineup for the second consecutive day with a sore back. … First baseman Justin Smoak (strained oblique) took early batting practice and regular batting practice. He will start a rehab assignment with the Rainiers on Thursday.
After a stretch of 20 games in 20 days, the Mariners have Thursday off. They start a seven-day, seven-game trip Friday in Oakland.