Dustin Ackley is the face of the Seattle Mariners' future. He was brought up last year in June for an extended trial that, unfortunately, qualified as his rookie season—so no Rookie of the Year award for him.
While that isn't as exciting for him, it means good things for the team. The Mariners are in desperate need right now of a team leader, and a hot-shot rookie wouldn't do the trick. Instead, the Mariners need a composed, talented, young, rising star who can lead his teammates to sustained victory.
The first component I mentioned is also the most important: Ackley needs to remain composed. We don't want an Alex Rodriguez or even a Ken Griffey, Jr. here.
Since a significant portion of the Mariners' new-face team is in the same age range and talent development stage as Ackley, they'll be looking to him as a leader to set an example and to model appropriate behavior.
That means no clubhouse scandals, altercations with the umpires, media spats, mound charges, etc.—but we wouldn't expect to see any of that out of Ackley anyway.
If he can keep his cool in tense and high-pressure situations, he'll win the admiration of the other players, which is a key to becoming a team leader.
Another important quality we'll want to see in Ackley is talent, and he's already proved he has it. Last season, he didn't have a stellar rookie showing, but his plate performance was above the level of most of the rest of the team, and it certainly didn't help to be part of such a weak lineup.
Ackley's fielding at second base, an area that had scouts worried, was also commendable. He'll likely continue to improve as he gets more reps, and we won't see a move to the outfield, where there isn't really any room as it is.
Next year will be Ackley's first full year, and we can expect to see major increases in both offensive production and defensive reliability. If Ackley sets the trend, undoubtedly, the plentiful other young talent will follow.
The fact that Ackley is just 23 years old will actually be an advantage in taking on a leadership role. That gives him a lot of time to bond with players who, as I previously mentioned, are mostly in his age and talent range.
If Ackley sticks with the Mariners, which he will for at least the next four years, he'll become an integral and necessary part of the clubhouse that his teammates look to in not just times of trial, but also times of success.
The combination of composure, talent and youth makes up his group leadership, but equally important are his self-leadership and active followership.
Ackley will have to exercise self-discipline in order to keep composed in the dugout, at the plate and in the field. That means if he drops into a two-week slump on the second day of the regular season, he has to maintain a positive attitude and stay focused.
He showed us in his short stint in the minors, through decreased strikeout rates in increased level of competition, that his discipline is actively improving.
Additionally, while the team's needs are ultimately the first priority, Ackley will need to watch out for himself, making sure he's developing as a player the way he's expected to.
Active followership is another term for being part of the team. Even if Ackley does become the established leader and most talented player, he can't distance himself from his teammates through increased media exposure and self-promotion—not that we have any reason to believe he'd act that way.
Dustin Ackley has all the right qualities to become the future leader of the Mariners, but will he utilize them? That's a question that will hopefully be answered early next season.