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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

January 29, 2010 at 2:39 PM

Dustin Ackley’s move to second base, and other draft/prospect tidbits

ackley2b.jpg

Today’s ex-Mariner news: Miguel Batista has signed a minor-league deal with the Nationals, re-uniting him with two of his former managers with Seattle, Nats head man Jim Riggleman and his bench coach, John McLaren. Batista also has a connection with GM Mike Rizzo, who worked in Arizona when Batista pitched for the Diamondbacks. He’ll be looked at, apparently, as both a starter and/or reliever. He’ll be 39 next month.

Batista had a great first season with Seattle after signing a three-year, $25 million contract in 2007 (16-11, 4.29), a terrible second year (4-14, 6.26), and then a functional season out of the bullpen last year (7-4, 4.04 in 56 appearances). Batista clearly wasn’t happy with his role last year, and at times made it evident. I remember once when the team was having a “Kangaroo Court” session in one of the interview rooms in the Safeco Field clubhouse. The players couldn’t be seen, but you could hear raucous laughter coming out of the room,and every once in awhile a player would spill out into the hall, usually in hysterics. But Batista, for much of the time, sat in a chair outside the room, stone-faced.

Still, he was a fascinating guy, with a lot of varied interests, and very active in charities and the community. I wish him well.

Lost in the tidal wave of information from yesterday’s luncheon was lots of talk about Dustin Ackley, and the progress of his transition to second base. The Mariners are pretty excited about last year’s No. 2 overall pick, who was just rated 15th in the top 50 prospect list of MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, and eighth in the top 100 list of ESPN’s Keith Law (sorry, it’s behind a pay wall).

Here’s what Carmen Fusco, the Mariners’ director of pro scouting, had to say about Ackley’s move from the outfield to second, which began this offseason,.

“I was one of the first to see that transition from the outfield to second base, and I immediately told Jack (Zduriencik) and the front office and Pedro Grifol (director of minor league operations), this is something I would pursue. He is a baseball player. Sometimes, we get caught up with, he’s a good athlete. He’s a good baseball player. His actions, his catching, his throwing, just embody that of a middle infielder. When he took ground balls, it was amazing. Really. Literally. He played through ground balls, his feet were moving. This wasn’t a kid who stopped and had to re-gather himself. This was a kid who had a good feel for playing through the ball, hands worked through the ball. Then when I saw him after, it was in December, I was back in Arizona. He was working with Mike Brumley, who I feel is a brilliant middle infield coach. I told Jack, and again the front office, from where he was when I first saw him, to where he was today, you would have thought this player was a middle infielder his entire career. Game speed, without question, is going to be for me the tell tale. This is a special, special, special talent.”

Here’s amateur scouting director Tom McNamara: “The summer before this junior year at North Carolina, he started off playing center field. Then he got the Tommy John surgery. He was moved to first base. I spoke to his father a few times when there was talk about him going to second base. He made a good point. He said, my son, he makes plays. He doesn’t wow you defensively, but he gets it done. The coach at North Carolina, Mike Fox, mentioned it a few times throughout the spring. He was fine at first base. I looked at him as an outfielder. But a plus offensive second baseman is pretty tough to find, pretty unique. He’s just a good athlete. When his arm comes back, that will be the telling tale for me. At second base, you do make more throws than you think you do. There’s outfield cutoffs, there’s double-play turns, there’s off-balance throws. I’ve talked to him about how he likes it. He likes it. He’s got the right attitude.”

More Fusco: “Ackley is a special talent. He’s much further ahead than I have seen in the past. Whatever he does will not surprise me. … I saw Ackley a number of times, I saw him on film, and when I saw him, I thought he was, mechanically, as efficient as I’ve ever seen a hitter at the high school/college level. That’s without question.”

Here’s Zduriencik, asked if the buck stopped with him when it came to the decision on moving Ackley:

“There’s a lot of bucks that stop right here, but you have to have the input and information. I’ve experienced this in my past. A good example, there was a situation with a club in the past where we brought a player to the big leagues where he had never played anywhere else but the position he was drafted at. Now all of a sudden, he gets to the big leagues, and you have a reasonably good big league club. So often, a young player gets to the big leagues, he’s trying to find his way. A starter ends up in the bullpen. An infielder might end up in the outfield. Vice versa. What ends up happening, if the first time a person gets put in a position he’s never played before, and it’s at the major league level, it’s tough. That’s not an easy thing to do. This game is tough enough to play up here, let alone you’re giving a kid an internship at the big league level.

“One of the things, philosophically, we’ve talked to Pedro about a lot is, make sure you have versatility with the players. At least if I ask the question, you have the answer. What does Dustin Ackley look like at 2B? This is how the whole thing got started. So when he comes to the big leagues, at least someone can say, we saw him for two weeks in left field, this guy can play. Or we saw him in center field. No one cares if you lose a game in Jackson, Tenn., in the middle of June, right? But it has a huge effect if you lose it up here because of a player’s versatility. Ricky Weeks, Ryan Braun – those were some of the guys in Milwaukee we were trying to get those answers for.

“Through the whole process of the draft, we saw Dustin play center, we saw him play first base. But it really did come from a statement from his college coach – I think he can be a great second baseman. So I asked Mac about it, and he said he did play shortstop in high school. Let’s give him his shot at second base and see where it goes. The discussion with Dustin and Scott Boras, they’re all in. If he becomes the type of player we think he’s going to be, if this guy is a premium bat with speed, left-handed hitting middle infielder, that’s pretty special. It only adds to a player versatility and opportunity at the next level.”

Will he primarily play second base this year in the minors? “We’ll have to see that at spring training,” Zduriencik said. “The kid thinks he can play second base, the people who have been around him – Mike Brumley, Darrin Garner — they’re all very excited by what they see as an infielder. I’d like to see it myself. Everything we’re hearing right now, it looks real good.”

Asked if this move coincides with the organization’s belief that second base is Ackley’s fastest route to the major leagues, Zduriencik replied, “No. Not at all. I think it goes back to trying to find a left-handed (hitting) middle infielder, which is gold. Try to find one in the big leagues. There aren’t many. He’s not a shortstop. I think the arm strength is a little short for him to be an every day shortstop. Power wise, it’s questionable whether he’d play third base. Second base was a natural transition. He’s athletic, middle of the infield. We’ll see.”

The Mariners, you’ll recall, had another first-round draft pick last year, No. 27 overall, and took high-school shortstop Nick Franklin (Longwood, Florida). He went 8-for-20 (.400) in six games for Everett after signing, including two doubles and a triple.

“I spoke to Nick last week,” McNamara said. “He’s a confident kid. He’s young. With the 27th pick last year, we had a decision to make. Do we take the 18th, 19th best pitcher, or do we take a guy we think is one of the top three shortstops in the country? We started scouting Nick last summer, and he got better and better. He got bigger. He just started to fill out. We’re excited he was there.

“One of the things I learned working under Jack in Milwaukee is sometimes you make mistakes out there, but that confidence is so big in the high school players. It stands out. It really does. Obviously, (Franklin) had tools and skills, but he’s a very confident kid.

Added Fusco, “This is another special talent. This is a special kid. I love this kid. Confidence. He had a hitting seminar here, and we threw him on film. He stacks up, he works into his front leg. Defensively, he’s special. He plays through the ball. He does a lot of interesting things. And he’s very, very confident.”

Finally, I asked McNamara about the differences preparing for a draft in which the M’s picked second overall, like last year, and this year’s draft, when they don’t have a first-round pick at all (because of the Chone Figgins signing, which caused their first-round pick to go to the Angels as compensation), and don’t make their first pick until No. 43 overall (in the sandwich round between the first and second round, compensation for losing Type B free agent Adrian Beltre).

“I think it will be a little less chaotic,” he said. “I think basically our philosophy is business as usual. We’re going to see the best player in the country, but we’re probably not going to see him play 10, 15 times like we saw Ackley last year. We’ve got to put things in perspective. If there’s a couple of guys we think are going to go in the Top 3, we’ll see them early, but I don’t know if we’re going to be in the park a lot by the end of the year.”

(Seattle Times photo)

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