Dustin Ackley's long-awaited arrival in Seattle on Friday is causing a stir in the Mariners' fan base. His manager in Tacoma thinks he can handle the hype.
As the top of the ninth inning of Tacoma’s game began on Wednesday, Dustin Ackley was unaware he was being called up by the Mariners.
So was Rainiers manager Daren Brown, who was in the third-base coaching box.
As the Rainiers rallied, a trainer urgently relayed to Brown a message from the Mariners’ brass. Fearful of an injury to the team’s prized prospect, Brown hastily sent Ryan Langerhans to hit for Ackley, who was walking to the on-deck circle.
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Brown later called over Ackley and asked him if he knew why he had been pulled.
“Prob’ly,” he replied in his North Carolina drawl.
Brown messed with Ackley a little before breaking the news.
“The guy on the mound was throwing a little too hard,” Brown told him. “He was running 95 to 99 (mph).”
“Really,” Ackley said, a smile on his face.
Brown then broke the news that Ackley was heading to Seattle on Thursday.
“He’s calm, and not a lot fazes him,” Brown said. “But I could see in his face he was excited.”
The long-anticipated arrival of Ackley, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft behind Stephen Strasburg, is causing a major buzz throughout the Mariners’ fan base. He will join the team at Safeco Field for the opener of Friday’s interleague series with the Phillies. Brown believes he has the temperament to handle the inevitable hype.
“Just watching the way he takes at-bats, not a lot bothers him,” Brown said. “But we’re talking about a different level. He’ll be excited. Will he possibly do things we haven’t seen when he gets in front of big-league crowds with a big-league team on the other side? All kids go through it. I think he’s the type of kid who can handle it and make the adjustments needed and be fine.”
The major concern about Ackley, converted to a second base after joining the Mariners’ organization, is his defense.
“His bat has never been a question,” said Pedro Grifol, Mariners director of minor-league operations.
Ackley struggled through April with a .211 average, but since has hit .352 with 14 doubles, three triples, seven homers and 28 RBI. Overall, he has a .303 batting average and a .421 on-base percentage. Ackley, a left-handed hitter, is batting .299 against lefties, .304 against righties.
“He handles the whole plate — the pitch away, the pitch in,” Brown said. “He doesn’t swing at bad pitches.”
Ackley’s 55 walks lead the Pacific Coast League, and he has only 38 strikeouts.
“He’s fun to watch taking batting practice,” Brown said. “There’s not one ball not hit on the barrel.”
Scouts have varying opinions of Ackley’s defense, with some believing he will eventually have to move off second. But the Mariners feel Ackley is ready to tackle the position in the majors. Wednesday in Fresno, Ackley dropped a pop fly in the fourth inning, breaking a 36-game errorless streak.
Grifol said that in a recent conversation, Ackley told him, “I feel like I’m a second baseman.” That wasn’t always the case as he made the difficult transition after playing the outfield and first base at the University of North Carolina.
“It’s a credit to the dedication and commitment Dustin put in to make this happen,” Grifol said. “People never see how committed he was to doing this. When everyone went home from the fall league and no one was in Arizona, this kid stayed here. His makeup and character are off the charts. Now it’s time for him to go up there and prove it.”
For the past month, Mariners infield instructor Darin Garner has been working with Ackley, tutoring that will continue in Seattle with former Gold Glove second baseman Robby Thompson, the Mariners’ bench coach.
He’ll join all the other Mariners youngsters — former Tacoma teammates Justin Smoak, Greg Halman, Carlos Peguero, Mike Carp and Michael Pineda — on a Seattle team that begins Friday a half game out of first place in the American League West.
“Obviously, a lot of young guys have contributed, so we expect him to come up and just fall into place and contribute as well,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said Wednesday.
“We know his personality. We know what kind of guy he is, and he will fit in real well with this group of guys. … The guys that earn it to be up here and are ready to be up here will be up here. We think he’s earned that right.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com