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Why Ackley needs more time in the outfield

By Shannon Drayer

Justin Smoak made the trip from Sacramento to Anaheim alone. There was some thought that perhaps Dustin Ackley might accompany him to relieve a struggling Michael Saunders, but that did not happen.

Eric Wedge spent nearly a half hour talking with Jack Zduriencik about what he saw while with the Tacoma Rainiers for the last two days. Smoak obviously was deemed ready to go and Franklin Gutierrez, who is eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list Saturday, "looked really good" according to Wedge.

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Dustin Ackley is making the transition from second base to the outfield. (AP)
As for Ackley?

"Jack said he looked really good in left field but didn't really have any balls hit to him in center field," Wedge said in his pregame meeting with the media. "But he has been okay in center field. And he's swinging the bat. He's up there ready to hit.

"He's doing what he needs to do down there but we need to give him a little more time."

Specifically, more time in the outfield.

"The reps in center field would be a concern right now. We want to make sure he can do that," Wedge said.

The assumption by many has been that this would be no problem because Ackley played the outfield at North Carolina. He was drafted as an outfielder, after all. Sure, we know he played first base his junior year after Tommy John surgery, but he was an outfielder, right? That's what most of the pre-draft publications and broadcasts had him listed as.

Not really. When Smoak arrived in the clubhouse Tuesday the reporters descended on him with all sorts of questions about how Ackley looked in the outfield. I thought it would be a good idea to talk to his college teammate, Kyle Seager, about it as well. Seager told me in truth he didn't see a lot of Ackley in the outfield in college because he didn't play there very much.

Sure enough, a look at his college numbers shows he played just 16 games in the outfield at North Carolina. He was recruited as a shortstop. He played the outfield in the Cape Cod League but over his career it has hardly been his primary position, so it's understandable that Wedge and Zduriencik would want to see him in center for more than four games.

Both Seager and Smoak said they thought the transition would not be a problem and while scouting director Tom McNamara pointed to Ackley's speed as an asset he thought could be greatly utilized in the outfield, his teammates pointed to his arm as being impressive.

"He's got a hose out there," Smoak said. "He made a couple of great plays while I was there, one really impressive throwing out a runner at second."

"It's a different throw than from second and one that seems natural for him," Seager said. "You see it when he plays long-toss after stretch. He really can let it fly."

This will not be like converting Michael Morse or Mike Carp to the outfield. Ackley has some experience and tools better suited for the outfield than the Mikes. Still, he needs to have a decent comfort level in the position before you make a move, but I suspect that won't take long.

It will be very interesting to see what the Mariners' outfield looks like in the next couple of weeks.

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