What seemed inevitable in recent months has come to fruition: Dustin Ackley has been traded. The New York Yankees are betting prospects Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez that the former No. 2 overall draft pick is just a couple fixes away from being a consistent major league hitter again.
Ackley, 27, has been more or less a fixture in the Mariners lineup since summer 2011 when he burst onto the scene. Drafted as a can’t-miss hitting prospect, the left-hander immediately left a mark with a .273/.348/.417 slash line and 117 wRC+ in 376 plate appearances through the end of that season.
Major League Baseball adjusted to Ackley in 2012 though as the then second baseman posted just a 75 wRC+. Still, as a sophomore who played reasonably good defense up the middle, it wasn’t an unacceptable season. In fact, between his 2011 and 2012 seasons he was worth 4.6 fWAR. That’s similar production to what veterans Marco Scutaro and Omar Infante produced over that time, both of whom had full 2011 seasons.
Ackley would struggle some during a 2013 season that required a demotion to Triple-A. It was also the beginning of his conversion to full-time outfielder as he spent nearly 500 innings in the outfield for the M’s.
Then, in the winter of 2013, Seattle signed Robinson Cano to take over second base indefinitely and Ackley would be transferred to left field completely.
The now former infielder made great strides in the outfield under the tutelage of coach Andy Van Slyke and had turned himself into a capable outfielder. He also managed to turn a red hot July and August stretch into a 97 wRC+ on the year. Ackley finished the season with 2.0 fWAR and was actually an average major league contributor. Not the perennial All-Star the M’s hoped was being drafted following Stephen Strasburg, but far from nothing like the result of many draft picks.
Entering 2015 the Mariners picked up another former second baseman in Rickie Weeks whom they hoped would form a platoon with Ackley, who had better success against right-handed pitching throughout his career.
The Weeks experiment wouldn’t last. After the addition of Mark Trumbo, Ackley and his 77 wRC+ were often found on the bench or coming into the game late as a defensive replacement. The return of Franklin Gutierrez, who’s proven to be a capable fourth-outfielder type, also lessened the need of Ackley on the current roster — he had started just four games since the All-Star break.
The good news, is that the Mariners didn’t get rid of Ackley — who was slated for free agency following the 2017 season — for nothing. Instead they picked up a pair of prospects that add some depth to an empty system at the upper levels of the minors.
Flores, a 24-year-old outfielder, made his big league debut this year for the Yankees after spending six years in the Bronx Bombers’ system. He has nearly 600 plate appearances at Triple-A between this year and last and he has hit throughout his minor league career. Flores appears to be about ready for a real test in the major leagues, but his skill set likely limits him to being more of a situation player than an everyday bat.
Across the board Flores has average tools aside from power, which is below. He has enough arm strength to work in right but his range likely will keep him from playing any meaningful role in center field. His plate discipline is regarded as being strong and he’s regularly posted walk rates around 12 percent in the minor leagues.
Flores may be able to fill the role Ackley held immediately as a late-inning pinch runner or defensive replacement, though his bat will probably be less effective this year. He’s somewhat of a complement to James Jones, who can play a decent center field and is probably the best base runner in the organization, as a corner guy with a little more pop and a better eye at the plate. Nevertheless, it’s more outfield depth.
In terms of stuff, Ramirez, a 25-year-old right-hander, is very well regarded. His fastball has hit 100 MPH and he’s flashed an above average changeup in the past. He began his professional career as a starter, but after battling command problems he’s been exclusively a reliever for the past two seasons.
Ramirez’s fastball sits in the 91-to-95 MPH range with some life and can still touch 98 at times. There’s enough in his secondary offerings as well that he could wind up as a set-up man or higher leverage reliever. The command is the real issue and until that resolves, he’s best suited for mop-up work.
One thing the addition of Ramirez does do is add to the stockpile of younger arms that Seattle has drawn from in trades for batters recently. Yoervis Medina, Dominic Leone, and Brandon Maurer have been dealt since December. There’s also some concern over whether or not Danny Farquhar will be able to solve his command problems as well; 2015 has been a messy year for the right-hander.
The dealing of Ackley offers a disappointing reminder to what could have been. But in return, the Mariners are getting an outfielder who conceivably could be just as good as Ackley in the present, and an intriguing arm who could fill a role in next year’s bullpen. Add the fact that they are saving about a million dollars in salary that could be redistributed to other means in the organization.
It was reported last night that the Mariners had rejected an offer from the Yankees for Ackley that included Flores and Benjamin Gamel, another outfield prospect. On the surface, it looks like playing hardball has payed off for the M’s who are getting a prospect with higher upside in Ramirez.
Don’t be surprised to see Ackley turn things around in New York. Yankee Stadium is built for his swing and a new set of voices on the player development and coaching side will probably do him well. We’ve all heard about the problems with the current Mariners player development procedures, or lack thereof.
Whatever the case, as much as it hurts some to see Ackley go, it was a move that needed to happen and the return was solid. Now, if only the Mariners would change their stance on Hisashi Iwakuma as we enter the final hours before the trade deadline on Friday.