Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
There continues to be a lot of speculation about how the Mariners’ outfield will be staffed this season. One thing is for sure though, Nelson Cruz will not be a part of it. Multitudes of rumors had been swirling around Seattle regarding the possibility of signing the overpriced slugger. Now that Cruz is on his way to Baltimore, the outfield can begin to settle in a little bit.
There are a few names currently in the mix for the outfield. Obviously we will be seeing a lot of Michael Saunders, who will probably spend most of his time in centerfield. From there however, the list of potential defenders is long and convoluted.
Corey Hart is looking stronger every day in Peoria, and while this season is still in its infancy, there’s a lot of hope in the Mariners dugout that he can take the lion’s share of the work in right field.
According to manager Lloyd McClendon, Saunders, Abraham Almonte and Stefen Romero are all capable of playing all outfield positions. Which means their play in the Cactus League is going to be geared towards narrowing that list down a bit. With the addition of Robinson Cano, former second baseman Dustin Ackley has found himself without a home this season.
According to McClendon, the Mariners are hoping to find a home for Ackley in left field.
This is obviously a change for Ackley, who put in a fair bit of time at center last season after losing his slot at second to Nick Franklin. I’ve commented in the past about how Ackley posted some decent numbers during his stint in the outfield. Most notably, Ackley put up a .993 fielding percentage over his 59 games in the outfield last season.
Sure, there’s a case to be made for bumping Saunders into a corner outfield slot and putting Ackley back at center, but McClendon isn’t letting the fans decide.
"Because that’s where I want him.– Lloyd McClendon on why Ackley will be playing in left rather than center field."
According to Larry Stone, it’s Ackley’s arm that is keeping out of right field. While it certainly isn’t horrid, Ackley’s arm was credited with yielding two runs last season and contributed to pushing his UZR to -7.0. In that case, it seems that left field might just be a nice fit for the former second baseman.
How often we see Dustin Ackley in Seattle however, is far from certain. Not only are Almonte and Romero up for a spot in the outfield, so too are Logan Morrison (assuming his ailing knees can be moved away from first base), and Xavier Avery, whom the M’s acquired at the end of last season in exchange for Michael Morse. Throw some other names into the mix from a potential Nick Franklin trade with the Mets, and it’s an all out scramble to see who emerges on top at the end of spring training.
Barring any disastrous setbacks in the Cactus League, Ackley should be getting the nod for the beginning of the season. It’s what he does afterword that will dictate if he keeps it. We’ve seen two dramatically different Dustin Ackley’s as the last two seasons kicked off.
Ackley laid a huge egg to kick off the start of 2013 and left us all wondering what happened. Granted, he roared back with a much more impressive .285/.384/.404 in the latter half of 2013 upon his return from Tacoma. But ultimately, he still needed that mid-season attitude adjustment, and we’d all rather see a guy who can hold it together for 162 games. If he’s able to keep it together and carry some momentum from last season, there’s no reason to think that the spot isn’t his to lose.
On the other hand, the M’s are flush with guys who are itching to take that spot. Ackley is penciled into it right now, but the competition could turn fierce if he trips out of the starting gate. Look for one or more of these guys to make a big statement in Peoria and shoot to the top of the list in April.