(Seattle Times staff photo by John Lok)
It’s been awhile since the impending arrival of a Mariner prospect has caused as much excitement as last night’s news that Dustin Ackley — finally — is headed to Seattle.
I remember there was a lot of buzz about Jeff Clement getting the call in 2008 — he had been the No. 3 overall draft pick in 2005, don’t forget, and was tearing up the Pacific Coast League to the tune of a .397 batting average, five homers, 20 RBIs and a 1.227 OPS. But a couple of differences: First, Clement had been a September callup in 2007, and even though he hit .375 to build up the expectations, he had been seen before. The air of mystery wasn’t quite as great as it is with Ackley. And secondly, Clement’s promotion came on April 30, so the anticipation hadn’t built to the same fever pitch as it is with Ackley. (And it died quickly with Clement, who hit .227 in between a return trip to the minors, and was never seen at Safeco Field again/ Clement had come up from Tacoma with Wladimir Balentien, another touted prospect who didn’t work out).
You have to go back to August of 2004 to find a promotion as eagerly anticipated as this one. That’s when Felix Hernandez, the young phenom who had shot through the minor leagues, came up from Tacoma to start against the Detroit Tigers at age 19. Unlike Clement, Hernandez lived up to the hype from the start and has never stopped doing so.
With Ackley’s arrival, the youthful transition of the Mariners continues. On any given day, they could start Ackley (age 23), Greg Halman (23), Carlos Peguero (24), Mike Carp (24) and Justin Smoak (24), with Hernandez (25) or Michael Pineda (22) on the mound. There will be growing pains, but it’s a lot more compelling seeing the ups and downs of youth than watching some of the tired veterans who have run (stumbled?) through here in recent years.
I don’t expect Ackley to come up and hit like Chase Utley — the player Ackley is often compared to, who will just happen to be the opposing second baseman in his first game on Friday — right away. But unlike Clement, I expect Ackley to make the adjustments and become a good major-league hitter fairly quickly. That has been his pattern. Last year, Ackley got off to a terrible start at Class AA but figured things out and finished strong. This year, at Tacoma, he was hitting .211 after 31 games, caught fire, and will come to Seattle hitting .303 (with a .421 on-base percentage). He’s hit lefties as well as righties, and he’s shown some pop — nine homers and 17 doubles.
The Mariners’ season is about to get a lot more interesting.