Carolina's Dustin Ackley has 'it'

May, 16, 2009
Dustin Ackley is probably going to be the pick after Stephen Strasburg in the June 9 draft. The University of North Carolina junior can really hit, as his career 100 extra-base hits, 127 walks and 73 strikeouts underscore -- not to mention the 1.273 OPS he has put up in this his draft year. His bat stays in the hitting zone like Johnny Damon's, and he can fly.

He has played first base because the Tar Heels don't have a viable alternative and because he is less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery. It is anticipated that he will play center field in the pros, although Carolina coach Mike Fox insists, "Let him put in the time, and he will be an outstanding second baseman." Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, who was in Boston (along with Pittsburgh's Neal Huntington and Washington's Mike Rizzo) to see Ackley against Boston College on Friday, liked hearing that. He also liked watching a game with two other potential first-rounders, BC catcher Tony Sanchez and Carolina right-hander Alex White.

Ackley, the son of former Red Sox minor league catcher John Ackley, might be a Chase Utley at second. Or a Darin Erstad in center. "I don't know if I'll ever coach a better player," Fox says. "Or a better person."

Now, Ackley's position change and progression isn't about to make him an instant big league sensation. Ask the Pirates. Pedro Alvarez was the second pick last year and considered by far the premier bat in the draft, and he went into this weekend hitting .209 in the Carolina League.

But Ackley will quickly be the prize of the Mariners organization. (Seattle has the No. 2 pick in the draft.) There are those people that when you meet them, you know. They look you in the eye and give off a presence. Derek Jeter always had it. Joe Mauer. Grady Sizemore. Torii Hunter. Derrek Lee. David Wright. Chase Utley. Ryan Zimmerman. Darin Erstad. Maybe hundreds more.

And now, Dustin Ackley. Asked why it wouldn't improve his draft status to play center field, he said: "The season isn't about my draft status, it's about this team trying to get back to the College World Series and trying to win a national championship. That's all."

Heels reliever Brian Moran -- he of the 77-4 strikeout-walk ratio in 56 2/3 innings -- says that no matter how many scouts come to watch UNC, Ackley will never take one swing more than anyone else in his group. And since Moran is the nephew of B.J. Surhoff, you can be assured that values come first to him.

The description of Ackley and his presence was sent to Indians general manager Mark Shapiro, whose response was, "I'm glad to know someone else with those values and traits is coming into our game."

That seemed important this week. Tuesday was Baseball Steroid Day. Roger Clemens repeated what he said 15 months ago, and Manny Ramirez was well on his way to becoming a SportsCenter poster boy.

Ramirez and Clemens became this week's news as Zack Greinke rolled to 7-1, Roy Halladay swatted away the Yankees and Ryan Zimmerman took his hitting streak to 30 games.

This is not about the designer-drug issues that the Los Angeles Times raised in the Ramirez case; that will unfurl in time, especially if it piques the curiosity of the FBI. But while Hollywood and the E! Network may revel in Lindsay Lohan and Robert Downey Jr. and Paris Hilton, the Jeters and Wrights, Sizemores and Mauers deserve for their game to be considered one of values, such that if Ackley develops into a young Utley or Erstad, it will allow him to reward the game that the Ackley family clearly reveres.

It is time for the Players Association to rearrange its values, from protection to promotion. It has justly been beaten up for spending so much time defending the guilty that the innocent have been punished and their level playing field muddied, but now is the time to go to the people who run baseball and promote the majority of players who will never be E! or Deadspin material, players like Torii Hunter and CC Sabathia and Kevin Youkilis and Curtis Granderson, who devote so much of their time and salaries to helping others.

Baseball has done some fantastic promotions, perhaps none better than the one with Ryan Howard's parents marching as part of the civil-rights movement. It's time for the association to approach Tim Brosnan and everyone on the business side and move forward. I'd bet the house that Ackley will be one of these guys, and the game should benefit from his rise.

David Ortiz went into Terry Francona's office after his 0-for-7, 12 LOB performance Thursday and suggested it might be a good idea to take a day or two off. "David needs to clean his head," Francona says. "He's trying so hard; he's embarrassed; he's frustrated. He actually looked a little better [Friday] in BP, so maybe the time off will help him stop trying to do too much." Ortiz isn't catching up to some 87-89 mph fastballs, and sometimes he starts so early he spins out and over breaking balls, but when Boston gets home Tuesday, Big Papi will be back in the lineup.

The Red Sox will scout out some potential bats, but right now they are not going to trade Clay Buchholz and won't discuss Michael Bowden (the two pitchers have a combined 1.04 ERA at Pawtucket) unless the bat they get is very young. The Nationals have let it be known that Nick Johnson is available, but Boston won't trade Buchholz. The Sox have looked at some outfielders like Ryan Spilborghs and Matt Murton, but the asking price continues to be their young starting pitching. If Ortiz is struggling come July, they may change their minds. Clubs will soon be asking for left-hander Nick Hagadone, who threw 98 this week in extended spring coming off Tommy John, but Boston won't trade him. They will bring him along carefully and not rush him to the majors this season as a David Price-style September addition.

If Carlos Delgado needs hip surgery, the Mets think he can be back by Aug. 1, so right now their plan is to give Gary Sheffield a full-time shot in left field, move Daniel Murphy to first base, and use both of them with Fernando Tatis and Ryan Church in a LF-RF-1B rotation.

Eastern League scouts all love Jhonatan "The Onion" Solano, the 23-year-old Harrisburg catcher who is hitting .298 for the Nationals' Double-A club. Why "The Onion"? Solano couldn't get signed playing at home in Barran Quilla, Colombia. He heard about a tryout across the border in Venezuela, but because he didn't have a visa, he climbed aboard a truck carrying onions, hid out beneath the produce, smuggled his way into Venezuela and got signed.

The Cardinals were encouraged that Chris Carpenter felt great when he got to the ballpark Saturday morning after throwing 120 pitches in a simulated game Friday night. So Carpenter will likely start either Wednesday or next weekend, and while the St. Louis starters have struggled in May, with Adam Wainwright's strong start in losing 1-0 to Jeff Suppan on Saturday, they think their rotation will be fine. "Now," says GM John Mozeliak, "we have to get our offense going." Rick Ankiel will be back next weekend, and Ludwick will be at the end of his 15-day stint on the disabled list, but they still don't know when Troy Glaus might be back in the lineup.

Khalil Greene's range is another issue.

Every team that starts off below expectations is faced with managerial speculations, but it appears that despite rumors to the contrary, Colorado's Clint Hurdle and Cleveland's Eric Wedge are safe for the near future. Hurdle's contract is up at the end of the season, but management appreciates that Hurdle managed the Rockies into the World Series two years ago and wants to let the season unfold and see where they are in October.

Mark Shapiro strongly defends Wedge, equally sharing the responsibility for the club's slow start with his manager and the struggles of some of the Indians' best players and bullpen.

When Ryan Zimmerman had his hit streak end at 30 games Wednesday, players across all eras reminded us that one reason Joe DiMaggio's 56-game streak may be untouchable is that hitters today face so many different pitchers, not only because of the bullpen specialization, but also because of expansion, which means that whereas in an eight-team league clubs played one another 22 times, now, outside of their own divisions, clubs get one look at some opposing starters. When Joe D got to 56 games in 1941, he had faced 53 pitchers in the 56 games. When Pete Rose got to 44 games in 1978, he had faced 60 pitchers in those 44 games. Zimmerman faced 68 different pitchers in his 30 games.

The Dodgers are on the prowl for relievers; so are the Indians, Yankees and Twins. But the teams holding pitchers expected to be available believe the market will only get increasingly bullish. And few teams are ready to throw up white towels.

Among the list of relievers expected to be available are Houston's Jose Valverde, Colorado's Huston Street, Oakland's Russ Springer, Pittsburgh's John Grabow and Baltimore's Danys Baez. Boston might be willing to move Manny Delcarmen, who might be able to close in the National League, but they'd trade him only for a significant bat. Incidentally, one scout says Ramon Ramirez "may be the best trade of the offseason. He could easily close if anything happened to Jonathan Papelbon."

The Cubs have Jeff Samardzija starting in the minors, figuring it will improve his command and develop his secondary pitches so he can contribute in the second half of the season out of the bullpen.

Much has been made in Los Angeles about the lack of power from James Loney and Russell Martin, especially without Ramirez. "James is still learning to hit, and for now he's going to be a high-average, RBI guy," Don Mattingly says. "But all of a sudden, he'll learn to pull and look out. He's going to be something. Russell is a much better player this year than last. He's worked hard to improve preparation and work ethic. He's not a power guy, but he's going to be a 15- to 20-homer hitter with a lot of doubles, and he's going to be a very good RBI hitter. Just watch."

Former big league infielder Lou Merloni caused a stir when he mentioned on a Comcast show in Boston that in 2001 a doctor addressed the Red Sox in spring training and suggested that if taken correctly, steroids could be helpful. Merloni has been hammered publicly, and then-GM Dan Duquette denied it. But a former major leaguer who was in camp that spring training corroborated Merloni's story and says: "I'm not sure of the name of the doctor; he was someone outside the Boston organization. In no way did I think Boston was trying to push steroids; I think they just wanted to educate us on the subject. But you could tell by the faces on the training staff that they didn't think the doctor would say the things he did."


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