By Brent Stecker
It was assumed the Mariners' lineup would look drastically younger as the season wore on, but the team's recent Triple-A invasion came even sooner than expected.
As The News Tribune Mariners writer Ryan Divish told "The John Clayton Show" on Saturday, the team's call-ups of shortstop Brad Miller and converted outfielder Dustin Ackley were likely meant to be more spaced out than they were.
Mariners center fielder Dustin Ackley pursues a home run hit by the Cubs' Starlin Castro on Saturday. Ackley, formerly a second baseman, returned to the Mariners after just a month learning to play the outfield in Triple-A. (AP)
"I don't think they would have brought Dustin Ackley back if Franklin Gutierrez doesn't get hurt for the 900th time this season," Divish said. "I don't think they bring Dustin Ackley back until maybe after the All-Star break. ... Gutierrez's injury kinda stomped all over that plan, so then they're just kinda have to go with what they're gonna go with. They're not hitting regardless even with the optimal lineup, so I guess they figure, 'Well, we'll put some kids in there, see if they can figure something out.'"
A big reason Ackley's return to the majors may have been rushed is his comfort level in the outfield – he's primarily been a second baseman since he was drafted in 2009, but the emergence of second baseman Nick Franklin necessitated a position change.
"You saw (Friday vs. the Cubs), that one hard fly ball that was hit at him, that liner, and he kinda ran in and then he had to run back really quickly," Divish said of Ackley. "That's just something he doesn't have a lot of experience playing, and one of the toughest balls hit right at you is that line drive. You could tell he had a little hesitancy with that."
Whether the rapid influx of prospects in Seattle was planned or not, it does have a few positives.
"What I do like is they're a lot more athletic with Miller and Ackley in the lineup," said Divish. "You see how slow they can be in certain areas, with (Raul) Ibanez, (Justin) Smoak, (Kendrys) Morales – they're so unathletic they can't manufacture runs. Other than hit a home run, they don't really do a whole lot of stuff. When you put Miller in, you bring back Ackley, you have (Michael) Saunders in there at times, you get a little bit quicker on the basepaths, and maybe you can take a base here or there or maybe score on a single or something like that."
Even if they've been rushed to Seattle from Tacoma, Divish thinks each of the three most recent offensive additions to the roster – catcher Mike Zunino, Franklin and Ackley – have a shot to be productive in the long term for the Mariners.
"(Zunino) really hasn't had a lot of professional baseball experience. About this time last year was right when he signed and started playing professionally, so to put him up here right now is a bit of a rush," he said. "He's gotten some hits, he's gonna strike out some. (But) I don't think the moment of the scene is too big for him. He's that mature. He really gets it."
Franklin has played well since joining the team, hitting .302 with four homers in 29 games.
"Franklin I've been extremely impressed with. I think they found a guy that they can kinda lock in there," Divish said. "I talked to a couple scouts that thought if Franklin had just focused on second base, which now they have, that he could be a very Dustin Pedroia-type hitter. The kind of swagger, the cockiness, the power you wouldn't expect from a little guy."
As for Ackley, who struggled mightily throughout 2012 and the early part of 2013 before being sent back to Triple-A, Divish is optimistic he'll bounce back.
"I think he's going to be OK. I really do think he learned something with that Triple-A send-down ... about his approach," he said. "Most of it was he never really failed before. Last year and then the start of this year was the most failure this guy's ever had in his life, and I don't think he reacted well to it. He got in his own head, thought about making outs, and you can't go up there worried about making outs when you go to the plate. When you start getting passive, you start getting defensive at the plate, and you put yourself in a bad position."