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« Peter Gammons: MLB Sources Say... | Main | Understanding John Axford's Scoreless Streak »
Monday
Jun242013

Peter Gammons: Success after Safeco

The day after Dustin Ackley was shipped out to Tacoma, one American League East general manager called the Mariners’ Jack Zduriencik to see if Seattle would be willing to move the 25-year old once drafted one slot after Stephen Strasburg. “I still believe in the bat,” said the GM. “I don’t know how we’d use him. Maybe first, second, left, center…But I still believe he’s a .300 hitter who could hit 50 doubles.”

As it turned out, that wasn’t the only Ackley call Zduriencik fielded the first couple of days after the demotion. “I also believe in Dustin Ackley,” said Zduriencik. “He can still be a major part of our rebuilding.” Two weeks later, Tacoma manager John Stearns told his GM, “this guy is a .300 hitter who’s going to hit doubles and steal bases. He’s really good.”

After 24 games in Triple-A, Ackley was hitting .366. He was getting on base at a .467 clip. He was slugging .495. "I feel right again,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. I made some changes in my approach before spring training. Maybe that didn’t take. But I’ve been healthy (after the removal of bone spur in each ankle this past winter). It isn’t the move to second base; that was fine. I don’t know what happened, but I feel like myself again.”

Dustin Ackley (Seattle Mariners)

Safeco is still a pitcher's park

Zduriencik thinks that while they moved some of the fences in, Safeco is still a pitchers’ park, a death sentence for hitters. Adrian Beltre was spooked at Safeco. Jesus Montero has disappeared back to Tacoma. Ditto Justin Smoak. “I’m a great believer in getting hold of someone who has struggled in Seattle but we believe can hit,” says another GM. Which is what the Red Sox did when they took the shot on Mike Carp.

“I got to Fenway, started relaxing, didn’t try to pull the ball and my old stroke came back,” says Carp. “Safeco is death on driving the ball to left-center, which is where I need to stay. Fenway is the opposite.” Ask Fred Lynn, Mo Vaughn, David Ortiz, Wade Boggs

The fact remains that while the Mariners are second to last in the American League in runs scored at home, in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 they were last. Dead last.

Now, in a city like Seattle, with some of the most intelligent analysis in the baseball journalism universe, one cannot pawn off the Mariners’ ill-fated history. Erik Bedard for Adam Jones and Chris Tillman? Jeff Clement? No need to go further. But they began to worry that Ackley was part of the bad legacy.

Ackley wasn’t just a good hitter at North Carolina, he was a great hitter, hence being the second pick in the 2009 draft after Stephen Strasburg and the signing bonus of more than $8M. He played 90 games for the Mariners in 2011, hit .273 with a .348/.421/.908 slash.

But it didn’t hold. In 2012, bothered by his ankles, he fell to .226/.294/.328/.622. Then he started 2013 a mess, .205/.266/.250. 

On to Tacoma. There they decided to let him play both left and center fields. “He took to both,” says Zduriencik. “He’s played both really well. His throwing has really come back."

In the meantime, Nick Franklin has played second base very well. Shortstop Brad Miller is starting to emerge in Tacoma. Catcher Mike Zunino is in the grooming process in the big leagues. And the off-season acquisitions of Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales have paid off, because they both can hit in Seattle.

“The most important thing is that the Seattle Mariners are returning to being a pitching team,” says Zduriencik. King Felix Hernandez is under contractual lock and key. Hisashi Iwakuma is really good, and his GM says, “believe me, he’s not going anywhere.” While Zduriencik admits he regrets trading Doug Fister, he projects Taijuan (Sky) Walker, Danny Hultzen and Erasmo Ramirez in the Seattle rotation by this time next season.

If that pitching is as good as they believe and Ackley, Franklin, Zunino and others join Kyle Seager in developing in Safeco, the Mariners can get good again, in a hurry. Parity? NFL equality? Fine, if you live in Seattle, you deserve a reason to believe.

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Reader Comments (2)

Good article Peter! I'm still crazy enough to be a believer in Seattle. And if there's one prospect I've always thought would come though eventually, it's Dustin Ackley. When he's on, he just looks too good to be a bust. Go Hawks!

June 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

A month after his call up, Nick continues to impress. Comparisons to Dustin Pedroia are not unwarranted. He seems fearless, & no situation appears too big for him. He has surprising power, squaring up on good pitches, & fighting off third strikes that are too close to take. Nick rarely gets caught looking. I would attribute this to Franklin studying Raul Ibanez, but Nick has been doing this since the first game of his call up. His batting approach is aggressive, without being foolishly so.
He is one of the few Mariners who doesn't feel like an automatic out when he steps into the box. He recently went to bat against the Pirates with two outs & a man on. Pirates reliever Mark Melancon quickly had two strikes on him. The next pitch was inside, belt high... definitely too close to take. Though the pitch sawed him off, Nick fought it off for a broken bat single to right field. Mariners TV color analyst Mike Blowers illustrated how Franklin adjusted his swing during the pitch by releasing his top hand from the bat, which was the only way he could turn on that pitch fast enough to make contact. It's one thing to recognize the pitch, make the proper adjustment & foul it off. It is quite another to actually turn it into a base hit. That pitch usually results in a strike, either swinging or called, or at best, a foul off. Maybe it was luck, but he got it done. I was impressed.
Now the Mariners have called another former Clemson Tiger, shortstop Brad Miller, to the big club. He was very poised & productive during spring training. He looked ready for the show at that time. He's put up consistent, solid numbers at every level with very little fall off when arriving. His approach reminds a lot of Nick Franklin. Confident, but not cocky. Aggressive, yet disciplined at the plate. Here's hoping Brad Miller is as productive as Nick Franklin.

June 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDoug
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