Strasburg Alternative No. 2: Dustin Ackley

Conor · October 20, 2008 at 6:39 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Stephen Strasburg is the consensus No. 1 pick in next year’s draft. Now, as Dave mentioned in the comments here, history shows that the top guy heading into the season rarely ends up being drafted first overall. Still, the Nationals face a PR nightmare if they don’t draft the player *perceived* to be the best after failing to sign the ninth-overall pick this year, Aaron Crow. So, let’s begin to take a look at some of the alternatives to Strasburg that could be an option for the Mariners with the second-overall pick. In part one of this series, I looked at USC shortstop Grant Green. This time, we’ll look at North Carolina 1B/OF Dustin Ackley…

Simply put, Dustin Ackley is one of the best amateur hitters in the country.

Ackley grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C. and played three years of baseball at South Stokes High School where he helped the Sauras win 1A state championships in 2003 and 2004. His senior year, Ackley played for North Forsyth High School where he was a Louisville Slugger All-American. Ackley has good baseball bloodlines, as his father, John, was a third-round draft pick by the Red Sox in 1979 and played in the organization as a catcher, but never made the big leagues.

Despite being ranked as one of the best high school players in the state by Baseball America in 2006, Dustin went undrafted and headed off to Chapel Hill, where he’s really made a name for himself.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Ackley bats left and throws right. He started every game for the Tar Heels in 2007, mostly at first base. Known as a quiet kind of guy, Ackley let his bat do the talking and turned in one of the most impressive performances in school history. Over 296 at-bats, the freshman hit .402/.448/.591 with 20 doubles, three triples and 10 home runs. He led the nation with 119 hits, setting a new school record in the process. He was just the fifth UNC player to hit over .400 for a season and his on-base percentage, slugging and 11 stolen bases all led the team. This wasn’t a young team, either. The 2007 Tar Heels had five guys that were starters in 2006. Not surprisingly, Ackley was named Baseball America’s Freshman of the Year. The Tar Heels made it to Omaha, but were defeated in the College World Series championships by the defending-champion O-State Ballaz.

Ackley took the summer off to rest his sore right (throwing) arm, but picked up where he left off for his sophomore campaign. Once again, Ackley started all of the team’s games and continued his onslaught against ACC pitching, hitting .417/.503/.597 over 278 at-bats with 21 doubles, four triples and seven home runs. He drew 47 unintentional walks against only 27 strikeouts and he stole 19 bases in 25 attempts. This year, his 116 hits ranked second in the nation—three fewer than Florida State catcher (and fifth-overall pick by the Giants) Buster Posey—and Ackley was named a third-team All-American by Baseball America. The Tar Heels found themselves back in Omaha, but lost in the semi-finals to the eventual champion Fresno State Bulldogs.

Ackley turned down the opportunity to play first base for Team USA’s collegiate team this summer to instead head out to the Cape Cod Baseball League and work on his defense in the outfield. Ackley doesn’t fit the mold of your typical first baseman, as there aren’t many that are 6-foot-1, 185-pounds at the professional level. He played outfield in high school and he’s very athletic with above-average speed. It’s the arm problems that have kept him at first base the past few seasons.

Ackley played for the Harwich Mariners and was hitting .415/.586/.707 over 41 at-bats before leaving  the Cape to undergo Tommy John surgery. The word is that he’ll be ready to go by the time UNC’s season rolls around in late February and that the team is planning to use him in the outfield this year.

For position players, the most important tool is the bat—and there are no questions that Ackley can hit. Right now, he profiles as a high average/high on-base guy and that’s already very valuable. However, if he shows he can handle center field and/or add some power, he could be a superstar…

Dustin Ackley links

• UNC player page

 • Daily Tar Heel feature

• Baseball America feature

• Cape Cod Times feature

• BA on Ackley’s surgery

• YouTube video of Ackley breaking an aluminum bat on a HR


38 Responses to “Strasburg Alternative No. 2: Dustin Ackley”

  1. Wolfman on October 20th, 2008 6:58 pm

    I like the fact he bats left-handed since Safeco was built for Griffey. I never understood Bavasi going after the right-handers for power (Sexson, Beltre, etc.)

    I’m curious who people prefer, Ackley or Green? I also like the fact Ackley is versatile and could possibly be used in CF. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a CF that can actually hit for a change?

  2. qwerty on October 20th, 2008 7:04 pm

    Love these posts. He sounds like what Jeremy Reed was supposed to be.
    I’ll take any of the above.
    Question: Is Aaron Crow available and a worthy pick?

  3. Conor on October 20th, 2008 7:08 pm

    Wouldn’t it be nice to have a CF that can actually hit for a change?

    I hope you’re kidding…

    As for Green vs. Ackley, I prefer Green right now because he has fewer questions surrounding him. But, it’s close, and if Ackley can handle center and can throw, I might change my mind.

  4. Conor on October 20th, 2008 7:09 pm

    Aaron Crow is available—he’ll be playing for the Fort Worth Cats (independent team) this season, but I wouldn’t pick him with the second pick.

  5. Patton on October 20th, 2008 7:17 pm

    I’m probably in the minority, but I like Ackley more than Green.

  6. Slurve on October 20th, 2008 7:46 pm

    I personally believe that if Ackely can play CF on a everyday basis and also hits like this he has my pick. He is awfully fast for a 1B and looks almost like a 5-tool player. Getting Green or Ackley will greatly improve this team but it’s kinda early to decide right now but whoever we draft I hope it’s one helluva player.

  7. nikolaib on October 20th, 2008 7:55 pm

    Sounds like Mark Kotsay without the his closer worthy arm.

  8. thr33niL on October 20th, 2008 8:33 pm

    The Nats throwing that last series to get the #1 pick maybe a blessing in disguise for us. Strasburg maybe great and awesome and all but this team needs a young bat like nobodies business. Green or Ackley would probably be huge for this team.

    Like qwerty, it sounds like Ackley should be what Jeremy Reed was supposed to be. A prime #2 hitter. All things considered though, I think I take Green assuming they think he can stick at SS and really has an Evan Longoria type upside.

    Of course we will see how this plays out come June. There are a lot of questions that need answering. Will the Nats even take Strasburg?… Will Ackley’s TJ surgery allow him to play CF?… Will he be looked at as a ML calibre CFer?…Will Green continue to progress at the plate?… Can Green stick at SS?…

    Just too many unknowns right now. But as of today, I like Green better simply because of the perceived upside and two other things… Betancourt seems to like to eat a lot and hibernate in the winter and Triunfel looks like he is destined for second or third base.

  9. Patton on October 20th, 2008 8:35 pm

    I will say this: I’m going to pay much more attention to NCAA Baseball this season.

  10. Madison Mariner on October 20th, 2008 8:46 pm

    I’m probably in the minority, but I like Ackley more than Green.

    I’ll join you there in the minority, Patton. 🙂

    I don’t know why, but I just like Ackley’s tools more. One piece I read said that he could possibly to switch to 2B, which would be nice if neither Lopez or Valbuena is a long-term fit there.

    So, is there any possibility that if we get him, we could see a Triunfel/Ackley middle infield combo, or for that matter, a Green/Triunfel middle infield combo if we took Green instead?

  11. philosofool on October 20th, 2008 9:31 pm

    Well, since the view from the balcony behind my freshman dorm room used to overlook Ackley’s home field, I’m kinda partial.

    Biases aside, the M’s need to scout Ackley and Green both during the coming season, with special attention to Ackley’s arm issues. However: nothing would make me happier than to see the M’s get a guy (Ackley is one, Green is not) who walked more than he struck out in college. The dearth of guys that take pitches well on this team and in this system is awful.

  12. dnc on October 21st, 2008 12:12 am

    I know Dave’s last year has been a little different than the prior ones due to the engagement, but I’m curious to hear

    a) whether he’s had the chance to see Ackley (who plays right down the road from him if I recall correctly) and/or Green (who plays a couple hours away)


    b) what Dave’s scout friends have to say about the two.

    Strasburg has been covered to a “t”, but I think there is much more to learn about both of these guys. If Dave’s around, I have a feeling he could shed some light for us.

    I’m particularly curious to hear what he thinks about Ackley’s power upside, and whether Green can stick at short.

  13. Conor on October 21st, 2008 6:51 am

    Green (who plays a couple hours away)

    Just so we’re clear, Green plays for USC (Southern California), not South Carolina.

  14. The Ancient Mariner on October 21st, 2008 6:59 am

    I think I’m with Conor on Ackley — if he proves himself a legit CF (not just someone who can handle the position, but someone who can play it well), that might move him ahead of Green in my book.

    Or maybe not; we’ll see how the season goes. But I agree, it would be nice to draft a few walks.

  15. galaxieboi on October 21st, 2008 7:34 am

    However: nothing would make me happier than to see the M’s get a guy (Ackley is one, Green is not) who walked more than he struck out in college.

    Didn’t Bill James speak of this when writing about Alvin Davis? There wasn’t a lot of room for growth. Thoughts?

  16. galaxieboi on October 21st, 2008 8:29 am

    Disregard my previous comment. James was referring to ‘Old Players Skills’.

  17. HerseyChris on October 21st, 2008 8:50 am

    Wow, I’m also excited about Ackley.
    Let’s see, so we’ll either have the chance to draft a Mark Prior, a hybrid of Tulowitzki and Longoria, or 5 tooled possible CF who hits .400 and walks more than he strikes out. Seems like a no-lose situation, which is definitely somethign I’m glad to be in.
    As for me, I’m fine with all three, but I wonder how well Ackley played CF in HS? HS defensive metrics probably don’t exist, so we’ll just have to see next year I guess. Also, I love the fact that he bats left handed and walks, but am not keen on an injury prone player.
    Good writeup Conor, I look forward to the next one.

  18. metz123 on October 21st, 2008 8:58 am

    Good baseball bloodlines? Are you serious? Are we going down the route of thoroughbred horses here? Do teams really look at the ancestry of a draft choice as part of their evaluation criteria? Please tell me that no one puts much weight into the parentage of a draft choice, particularly one that never made the show.

  19. Dobbs on October 21st, 2008 9:08 am

    Perhaps I’d agree if there weren’t guys like Griffey, Boone, Ripken, Manning (for another sport’s sake), etc. all running around.

    Given the chances of succeeding at the top level are rare to begin with, it’s probably not by chance that the parents have something to do with their kids making it to the big leagues.

    But hey, that might just be random chance happening a lot more than I’d expect.

  20. Conor on October 21st, 2008 9:28 am

    Good baseball bloodlines? Are you serious? Are we going down the route of thoroughbred horses here? Do teams really look at the ancestry of a draft choice as part of their evaluation criteria? Please tell me that no one puts much weight into the parentage of a draft choice, particularly one that never made the show.

    Don’t get too bent out of shape, it’s just one piece of the puzzle and mostly I just wanted to note the fact that his dad played pro ball.

  21. vj on October 21st, 2008 9:45 am

    WRT Baseball Bloodlines:
    I recall reading in “Moneyball” that one reason Beane was excited about Nick Swisher was his ancestry – children of former players apparently have a higher likelyhood to make it to the show.

  22. JJD on October 21st, 2008 9:59 am

    defending-champion O-State Ballaz

    This cracked me up.

    What’s considered a better value at #2 – a SS or an OF/1B? Is there a similar mindset to those positions and drafting compared to the one in the NFL, where you would typically not draft some positions in early rounds?

  23. jimmylauderdale on October 21st, 2008 10:51 am

    Though it was interesting that both Green and Ackley list Pete Rose in their bio pages. Ackley’s says he modeled his game after Rose and Green’s says Rose is his sports hero.

  24. msb on October 21st, 2008 10:53 am

    Good baseball bloodlines? Are you serious? Are we going down the route of thoroughbred horses here? Do teams really look at the ancestry of a draft choice as part of their evaluation criteria?

    of course they do– why do you think that every year there are published post-draft articles detailing just whose kid got drafted? 2003 was a good example …

  25. Richie sux on October 21st, 2008 11:20 am

    On How I met Your mother last night, a quote from one of the characters:

    “You never bring person from a failed relationship to a wedding of a successful one. that’s like bringing the Seattle Mariners to a World Series”

    That cracked me up. although i cried a little inside 🙁 I hope the new GM will be able to take us to a world series

  26. joser on October 21st, 2008 12:18 pm

    “Bloodlines” — at least among the more thoughtful — probably amounts to a “nuture” argument more than a “nature” one. Granted there’s a genetic component to athletic ability, but there are so many specific skills in baseball that growing up around the sport, among skilled practitioners and coaches who can challenge, inspire, and pass along tips at a very early age, is almost certainly an advantage.

    In this respect it’s worth noting that basketball — a sport that rewards genetic extremes more than most — has relatively few notable father/son professional lineages. Whereas a sport like NASCAR, where success presumably has very little to do with genetic predispositions, is renowned for its father/son (and even grandson) “bloodlines.” There again, growing up around the sport offers a huge advantage that has everything to do with who your father is and almost nothing to do with what genes he passed along.

  27. Dobbs on October 21st, 2008 12:30 pm

    where you would typically not draft some positions in early rounds?

    Yeah… relief pitchers.

    basketball — a sport that rewards genetic extremes more than most — has relatively few notable father/son professional lineages.

    Basketball has very few players in general, but I’d be interested in hearing the percentages of basketball versus baseball. Off the top of my head, there are the Barry’s, Waltons, Wilkins and that’s about as far as I can go for current players off the top of my head…

  28. HerseyChris on October 21st, 2008 1:01 pm

    Jalen Rose’s dad was in the NBA (Jimmy Walker).
    Kobe Bryant and his dad Jelly Bean Bryant.
    Karl Malone’s daughter is WNBA star Cherryl Ford.
    George Karl’s son Koby Karl plays for the Lakers.
    Both of Yao Ming’s parents were ‘pro’ players in China.
    Sean May and his dad both were college stars (and pro flameouts…?)
    Spencer Hawes’s dad was a good college player and his uncle starred for the Blazers?
    Grant Hill’s dad was an all-pro for the Cowboys.
    Mike Bibby’s dad was in the NBA.
    Also Mike Dunleavy and his son Mike Dunleavy.

    I believe there is a strong correlation between NFL and college QBs and their fathers either playing football (not necessarily QB) or coaching football. Just look at the Seahawks and you can see that the QB of the offense and the ‘QB’ of the defense both played in the NFL.

  29. vj on October 21st, 2008 2:04 pm

    I have seen an article suggesting that Yao Ming was in fact ‘bred’ to be a basketball player. The article (in German, unfortunately, but from a reputable source, Germany’s most influential news magazine DER SPIEGEL) states that the Chinese government arranged the marriage between his parents so that their children would inherit their size and ability in basketball.

  30. HerseyChris on October 21st, 2008 3:51 pm

    If you haven’t, and you’re interested in sports or China, read ‘Operation Yao Ming’. It’s a great book that gives insight into a lot of things related to China. Whether it’s the sports camps, the politics, their olympic aspirations, their tendency to lie about age, the way socialism affected sports, etc. Great book all around.

  31. joser on October 21st, 2008 4:36 pm

    Well, we’re getting more than a little off topic here, but before we get into deep eugenics doo-doo we should remember that “regression to the mean” as a statistical phenomena applies to population genetics as much as it does to hitting. And that’s going to be true of things like height, so that one shouldn’t expect two extremely tall parents will automatically produce taller, or even equally tall, offspring. In fact it was through the measurement of the height of parents in comparison with their children that the principle of Regression to the Mean was discovered in the first place, by Francis Galton who deserves to be better-remembered than he is, for better (statistics, fingerprints) and worse (eugenics, again).

    The nature of genetic inheritance means that while tall parents are more likely than average-height parents to have taller-than-average offspring, their children are more likely to be shorter than themselves vs. the children of average parents (at least on a statistical basis, barring oddities like pituitary disorders, etc). So while Yao Ming’s father might reasonably expect to have a tall son, it wasn’t a good bet that the son would be taller than him. Of course he was, but flukes do happen; if Yao had had brothers we wouldn’t expect them to be equally tall. And of course there are other factors beyond genetics — how do we know Yao Ming’s father reached his genetic potential? How good was his nutrition when he was a growing child? How good was his mother’s nutrition when he was in the womb? What other environmental factors might he have been exposed to? This is the fundamental intellectual failure among eugenicists (be they English Victorians, German Fascists, or Chinese Socialists): there’s a lot more to human potential than just genetic makeup.

    Of course, Yao Ming is married to pro basketball player Ye Li, who at 6’3″ is an inch taller than his mother. That may be simply a matter of not having to look too far down when agreeing to whatever it is she’s telling him to do. Or perhaps, regardless of the odds, the quest for the Chinese übermensch continues.

  32. Jeff Nye on October 21st, 2008 5:04 pm

    Yeah, we’re getting pretty off-topic with the whole eugenics thing, especially since it all started from a pretty minor point Conor was trying to make.

  33. dave6267 on October 21st, 2008 7:26 pm

    I think people look at regression to the mean wrong sometimes. Yes, a son of a tall father will probably be shorter than his father, but that son is much more likely than the son of an average father to be extremely tall.

  34. mln on October 21st, 2008 8:23 pm

    [waaaaaay over the line]

  35. Jeff Nye on October 21st, 2008 8:47 pm

    That went pretty much how I expected.

    No more eugenics talk.

  36. The Ancient Mariner on October 22nd, 2008 8:53 am

    In the meanwhile, getting back to the subject — namely, Dustin Ackley — what would appear to be the chance that he can actually play CF? (I don’t mind the rag arm so much if he can cover the ground, just so long as he doesn’t hurt himself trying to make the throws.) Also, realistically speaking, since he looks like a doubles hitter at the moment, are we talking a guy who could hit 40+ a year like Edgar did? (Plus, one would hope, a few triples a year, given his speed.)

  37. mln on October 22nd, 2008 12:55 pm


  38. Wishhiker on October 23rd, 2008 2:25 pm

    I figure Ackley is only really worth a look at #2 if he seems like a likely future CF after a year of playing in the outfield. I like the possibilities with him if he has a good showing defensively in the outfield this year. As far as him being like Edgar with more speed I think that’s expecting a bit much. It seems possible with his main comps, Utley, Gwynn and Damon posessing a lot of the same tools that made Edgar a great hitter. With the specific question of 40 HR I must note that among those comps. only Chase Utley has surpassed 30 HR in a season though never 35 (twice out of 6 seasons). Utley is the comp I’ve seen listed most often on searches I’ve done though.

    This is what (the most detailed draft board I’ve found) had to say.

    Utley. Gwynn. Damon. These are the names most often mentioned when discussing the offensive talent that oozes from the lefty-swinging Ackley. His stance reminds one of Johnny Damon, he hits like Tony Gwynn as far as average and plate discipline, and has many projected him out to become another Chase Utley overall. Think .320+ BA, 20+ HR power, 20+ SB ability via above-average speed, and excellent defensive skills… and that gives you an idea of how highly touted of a player the NC native is. Another player that comes to mind is Nick Markakis.

    The youngster has an ongoing issue that has to be considered when discussing his capabilities, and that is his right elbow/Tommy John surgery that Dr. James Andrews performed this past July. Ackley throws with his right arm, and the injury has bothered him for sometime, forcing a move to 1B to save the arm some wear and tear. Ackley is normally an outfielder, but took quite well to 1B, and may wind up sticking there. There are some who see him as a 2B’man, but most see an eventual return to the outfield. His recovery is expected to be full, but one never knows the implications… long term.

    One thing is for sure, the kid can hit, and he’s a gamer. Another positive is his affinity for wood bats, as he was crushing his fellow collegians in the highly regarded Cape Cod Summer League before having his surgery; to the tune of .415/.586/.707/1.293 in 12 games (41 AB’s) for the Harwich Mariners. Small sample size, but the scouts all see it… he can flat out rake…

    I’m not so worried about him fitting in CF either if 2nd seems a good possibility as well. It sounds like his bat could play at any position anyway.

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