There are those who see a top prospect like Dustin Ackley and expect the worst. He’ll bust. He won’t hit, because the Mariners never hit. Maybe he’ll shape up in a couple of years, but he’s going to be mediocre like all rookies. There are also those who see a prospect like Ackley and expect him to out-produce Albert Pujols from the start. Have you seen his minor league walk rates? And that power surge in Tacoma? He was the number two overall draft pick and he’s going to take Major League Baseball by storm!
Both of these types of people, as far away from each other on the spectrum of hope as they are, are equally likely to be wrong.
Dustin Ackley is different than a lot of top prospects because his success doesn’t hinge on his ability to hit for power. He possesses above-average speed, scouts purportedly like his defense (though he’s far from a finished product), and has exceptional plate discipline. (Yes, he profiles somewhat similarly to Ichiro.) Ackley could hit 3 home runs next year (as Bill James predicts), and he could still be a productive player for the M’s.
I can’t tell you what to expect, because expectations are almost always proven wrong. But I can warn you against being too pessimistic or too optimistic in your Ackley-related hopes and dreams. Let’s say Ackley ultimately accrues 400 plate appearances, drawing 50 walks, hitting 5 home runs, and registering a -3.0 UZR value. This is a reasonable outcome, and well within the vast realm of possibility. Ackley could also injure himself severely after 30 games and be forced to sit out for the rest of the season. This, too, could happen.
“Thanks, Taylor,” you’re probably saying to yourself with a caustic, sarcastic tone. “I took the time to read your stupid article, and all you’ve told me is that Dustin Ackley will do x, y, or anything in between in the 2011 season.” Or perhaps you’re nowhere near as impatient as I am, and you’re patiently waiting for me to say something worthwhile. That’s nice of you, though predicated on some severely misplaced confidence in me. Here goes.
Predicting how a baseball player will fare in the Major Leagues when he has yet to play a single Major League game is a tricky business, and probably not a very profitable endeavor. I wouldn’t suggest it as a line of work. But people do it all the time because minor leaguers are constantly having their first cup of coffee (although most of them barely have time to finish that cup). Rarely do we find a prospect as talented and polished as Dustin Ackley, so rarely do we find ourselves predicting how such a prospect will fare. I shy away from pulling projections out of my [insert body part here], but I will offer some evidence as to why I think Dustin Ackley will produce somewhere around 2 wins above a replacement level player next season for the Mariners.
12.7%. This is Ackley’s career AA/AAA walk rate. This shows us that his pitch recognition and plate discipline are both above average.
.381 and .439. These are Ackley’s slugging percentages in AA and AAA respectively. This shows us that in a somewhat small sample size, Ackley’s ability to hit for power developed, and will likely continue to develop over his time in the majors.
?. This is a question mark. It signifies how UZR will interpret Ackley’s defense at second base. We’ll have to wait and see whether his defense turns out to be an asset, something that is average, or a problem.
That’s really not a whole lot of reliable information, is it? You probably don’t feel very satisfied after reading this. In fact, I’ll have to end this article with a one-line tag to spice it up a little. But why would I do that? Isn’t everyone sick and tired of those obnoxious faux proverbs? Would I really employ a writing tactic as base as the tag to get myself out of a tight spot?
Yes. Yes I would.
Taylor Halperin is an undergraduate studying at Williams College. You can read more of his writing about baseball, life, and the ironic lack of humor in newspaper cartoons here.