Strasburg Alternative No. 2: Dustin Ackley
Stephen Strasburg is the consensus No. 1 pick in next yearâ€™s draft. Now, as Dave mentioned in the commentsÂ 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 donâ€™t draft the player *perceived* to be the best after failing to sign the ninth-overall pick this year, Aaron Crow. So, letâ€™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, weâ€™ll look at North Carolina 1B/OF Dustin Ackleyâ€¦
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 heâ€™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 wasnâ€™t a young team, either. The 2007 Tar Heels had five guys that were starters in 2006. Not surprisingly, Ackley was named Baseball Americaâ€™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 teamâ€™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 nationâ€”three fewer than Florida State catcher (and fifth-overall pick by the Giants) Buster Poseyâ€”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 USAâ€™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 heâ€™s very athletic with above-average speed. Itâ€™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 leavingÂ the Cape to undergo Tommy John surgery. The word is that heâ€™ll be ready to go by the time UNCâ€™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 batâ€”and there are no questions that Ackley can hit. Right now, he profiles as a high average/high on-base guy and thatâ€™s already very valuable. However, if he shows he can handle center field and/or add some power, he could be a superstarâ€¦
Dustin Ackley links
â€¢ UNC player page
Â â€¢ Daily Tar Heel feature