The first time Dustin Ackley played outfield in the Seattle Mariners organization, it was short-lived. After his selection in the 2009 draft, the Mariners announced Ackley as outfielder. Just a few weeks in the AFL later, Ackley was converted to 2B. The rationale was that it was a more premium position, could accelerate his time to the bigs, and he had the athleticism to play there. Still, it was a bit curious and I had suspicions arise. Did the M's see something with his outfield arm they didn't like? Ackley became a more than acceptable defensive 2B, and his time in the OF was just a memory. Until today.
Interesting Tacoma lineup today. Dustin Ackley in left field, OF instructor Brant Brown here to work with him.— Mike Curto (@CurtoWorld) June 12, 2013
Dustin Ackley is getting another chance in the outfield. With Nick Franklin's early returns promising and Brad Miller's looming promotion, there isn't room in the MLB infield for Ackley right now. He hasn't really been an option anywhere else but 1B, so here we are. Ackley certainly has displayed the athleticism to be an outfielder during his time in Seattle, so that part won't be an issue. He'll never be a burner, but he's demonstrated he has more than enough range to cover somewhere like LF, assuming he learns how to take a proper route.
However, there's a common misconception about Dustin Ackley and his outfield experience. Ackley played primarily 1B in college and only a handful of games in the outfield at UNC. He had Tommy John surgery in 2008, but the injury bothered him all through college, and the Tarheels usually kept him protected at 1B. Ackley's actual ability to play the outfield is largely guesswork at this stage in his career.
Still, my main concern that won't go away is Ackley's throwing arm. He got the job done at 2B, but not a lot of arm strength is needed. When you look at his delivery compared to Nick Franklin's, it becomes worrisome that his throwing motion may cause some problems in the outfield. Take a look for yourself.
Ackley first, Franklin 2nd.
Ackley's has a slower, overhand release. We also witnessed Ackley struggle on relay throws and bounce balls to first sometimes. Certainly, throwing a ball three times further is going to require a different type of motion, and he may have a super laser arm when he isn't pushing it to second, which is what he's always kind of looked like. I don't know. I'm speculating while playing a scout, and I'm not a scout.
I don't want to overstate how important a strong arm is in the outfield. It needs to be passable. This whole thing is another positional change adventure, but a smart one for the Mariners. It's no good to have a guy who can only play 2B when you have promising young talent all capable of playing there. The Mariners might have to start getting creative to fit all of these guys in the lineup if they all prove they can hit, and this is the first step.
At the end of the day, all of this becomes really simple. If Ackley can hit, the Mariners will find a place for him. That's still really all that matters in the future of Dustin Ackley. So far, he's hitting in AAA.