Remember Stephen Strasburg?
I'm sure you have some vague recollection of the big right-hander from San Diego State who made a couple of starts for the Washington Nationals last summer before he blew out his arm. Seems he's on the mend and will be making his way back to the bigs shortly.
I wish him well, but it's beginning to seem that the guy the Mariners drafted right after Strasburg, might just be something special himself. Funny to think there was a time when it appeared that the Mariners were left with the consolation prize of the 2009 MLB Draft.
Dustin Ackley at first glance came across as a tweener—not quite an outfielder or first baseman in the majors, but instead a middle infielder that would need time to learn the position. At the plate some compared him to Wade Boggs and figured he might win a batting title, but similar to Boggs would never really show much power.
Once signed his journey through the minors was relatively straightforward, but nothing to get too excited about when compared to the buzz generated by Strasburg. This time last year, just as Ackley reached Tacoma, Strasburg had people so convinced of his greatness that his baseball card was selling for $10,500. Soon after, though, Strasburg's arm gave way and he's been unable to pitch until now.
For Ackley, 2011 would pick up where he left off in Tacoma, but at some point during the season it was almost certain he would get the call. Early on things didn't look too promising, which raised some concerns, yet by May he started to hit.
Are the Mariners better off with Dustin Ackley instead of Stephen Strasburg?
He hasn't stopped since.
Playing within an anemic lineup during an epic losing streak, Ackley has hit the cover off the ball day after day since arriving from Tacoma and while the sample size may be small, there is little denying the results.
What makes Ackley special, though, and what I failed to see earlier is his intelligence and fearlessness. Whether it's slashing the ball to all fields, scoring on a wild pitch to win a ball game or making a diving stop on a hot shot, for weeks now it seems we've been treated to one great moment after another.
Will he be Rookie of the Year as some have ventured to guess? Unlikely at this point as someone like Mark Trumbo of the Angels has a larger body of work to sway voters, not to mention a flair for the dramatic as we saw on Sunday when he homered off staff ace Felix Hernandez.
For now though that's not what's important. What is important is that Ackley and the rest of the young Mariners continue to gain valuable experience these final two months of the season and ready themselves for the future.
With Ackley, Michael Pineda, Blake Beavan and Justin Smoak, perhaps we are seeing the humble beginnings of the Mariners nucleus for the better part of the next decade?
Maybe there is even more reason to believe given the flashes we've already seen from recent trade deadline acquisitions Trayvon Robinson, Casper Wells and Charlie Furbush in just a few short days.
We have to start somewhere. Besides, isn't it more fun to watch someone like Trayvon Robinson that really wants a shot and literally throws himself into every play rather than Milton Bradley taking up space? For two brief moments this weekend Robinson helped me remember that baseball is not only fun to watch, but more importantly, fun to play. The look on his face when the umpire told him he hit his first Major League home run on Saturday night was priceless.
Let's see what the kids can do. What do we really have to lose at this point? In addition to determining what talent you have for next year, we deserve a team that win or lose hustles each and every day, every play.
So in case you haven't already, it's time to finally move on from what could have been with Stephen Strasburg and take stock in what could be.
Dustin Ackley is for real folks. I had my doubts, I'm very sorry, but so very glad to be wrong.