Mariners' top prospect has already moved to AAA Tacoma and a call-up to the majors might not be far behind

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RENO, Nev. — Dustin Ackley had every reason to go out and celebrate.

He had just been promoted to Class AAA Tacoma. He had hit a home run in his first Rainiers at-bat. And he was staying above a huge casino in the heart of the city.

“Nah. I just went back to the hotel,” Ackley said. “The past couple mornings, I’ve gotten up pretty much before 5 a.m. for flights. I was just trying to get some sleep.”

That’s life on the fast track. It can get tiring.

Ackley, the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft and the Mariners’ top prospect, is nearing the big leagues. After struggling to start his professional career, Ackley got hot and was called up Wednesday from AA West Tennessee. Then the whirlwind travel: Jackson to Memphis, flight to Seattle, then Reno.

Ackley, 22, is making his Pacific Coast League debut in a four-game series against the Reno Aces that started Thursday. He said he’s in no hurry to be promoted to Seattle, despite the Mariners’ sinking season and the rocket-shot timeline of the player drafted ahead of him — Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg.

“I don’t feel the pressure to be somewhere else right now,” Ackley said. “I feel like I’m still developing.”

He attributed his early-season struggles at Class AA, when he was batting in the mid-.100s, to the fact that “everything was new,” including a new position. The Mariners had tried him in the outfield. He played first base his last year at North Carolina.

“When I first started out, there was definitely discomfort,” Ackley said. “Fielding ground balls, double plays, backing up balls at first … I started off real slow and that just kept going. It just took some time to get comfortable and to get more confidence.”

Rainiers manager Daren Brown said Ackley will benefit from playing next to veteran shortstop Chris Woodward, who has had professional experience with Seattle and Boston. Ackley and Woodward paired up Thursday to turn a double play.

The first two games of the series, Ackley batted sixth in the lineup.

The home run — “the best ball I’ve hit all year,” Ackley said — was his first hit in the first two games. He was 2 for 4 with two doubles Saturday night. He has occasionally flashed his much-hyped line-drive power and speed.

“We’re going to be patient with him and at the same time, he’s a kid we think has a chance to be a good player,” Brown said. “Our job is to get him ready to play in the big leagues.”