Former second overall pick Dustin Ackley holds a special place in my heart. I witnessed his Mariners debut on June 17th, 2011. The Phillies were in town for a three-game set and Seattle was still in contention. Former pitching great Roy Oswalt was the Phillies starter, so it appeared Ackley would need to wait for his first big league hit another night.
So when Ackley snuck his first hit between Oswalt’s legs, the eruption of Safeco Field cheers were louder than any walk-off celebration I had ever heard. The excitement continued into the next game as Ackley hit a game-tying solo homer against Vance Worley, his first dinger and RBI of his career.
Mariners fans, I wish I could write more chapters about the Dustin Ackley novel but that was it. Ackley never panned out as the exciting phenom the M’s hoped he would be. Yet if he hadn’t been selected right behind Stephen Strasburg, there wouldn’t have been as much disappointment for the fanbase. There wouldn’t have been such high expectations; perhaps he would have just been one more chain link in the long line of young Mariners busts.
Which brings me to the point here. We are fans of a team with a mediocre farm system. We’re so used to poor experiences with call-ups that when a top pick like Ackley comes around, we jump on their bandwagon immediately. We cheer them on and treat like them stars before they’ve even played five games. We give players the benefit of the doubt before they’ve benefited the team.
The Mariners need to take a different approach to their vaunted call-ups. We need to lower expectations so that the disappointment won’t be as high. I’m not saying we shouldn’t get excited when a young guy hits one into the gap or any of the above. But we need to wait the excitement out a little. Give the player time to settle.
An example is Mike Zunino. Management has consistently experimented with Zunino and it hasn’t worked out. Yet the Mariners continue to hold on. When Ackley hit that home run against the Phillies, my friend and I talked about how much of a star he would become. We jumped the gun. The team and its fans need to accept that some of these players just won’t meet their projections, or even come close.
Ackley is the biggest offender because of how high he went in his draft. He is one in a series of homegrown disappointments. They make their debuts, have a great first week, and then resort to mediocre stat lines after enough time has passed. Just take the edge off, Mariners fans. It will help your fan excitement over time and bring you down to Earth.
If lowering expectations for up-and-coming Mariners prospects doesn’t help, maybe more of a “tough love” approach in the same vein as the New York and Boston markets would be better suited for our critiques. Yet at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how tough fan expectations are. Management needs to have a shorter leash for these young guys that come in and don’t perform well enough. Consider this something to think about while 2019 awaits.