One of the biggest hesitations that Mariners fans have with this rebuild that the team is going to try to pull out of in 2022 comes from being burned by highly touted prospects in the past. The team had Justin Smoak, Mike Zunino, Jesus Montero, and countless others disappoint them. None of these busts were greater than Dustin Ackley, who was one of the organization’s most highly ranked prospects in baseball back in 2011.
Dustin Ackley was a top prospect in all of baseball a decade ago.
Back in 2011, Dustin Ackley was ranked as the Mariners number one prospect by MLB Pipeline, as well as number five in all of baseball. Looking back now that hurts all M’s fans, but he was truly one of the best prospects in baseball. Fans now laud over Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic and their ceilings, but Ackley had an equally high ceiling back in his day. One site in 2009 compared Ackley to some great players.
"Dustin Ackley is one of the most polished, patient, well-rounded hitters to come out of college in a long while. He’s on the same tier as guys like Justin Smoak, Gordon Beckham, Buster Posey, Matt Wieters, and Evan Longoria. Ackley should consistently be among the league leaders in batting average as well as OBP, with the potential for more power after a few mechanical tweaks. He could do this while being a good defender at a key, up-the-middle position.His ultimate upside is a Chase Utley-type, MVP caliber all-around player."
Now, this was incredibly high praise for the first-rounder by Prospect Project, but this is the type of ceiling that fans put on Jarred Kelenic, Noelvi Marte, and Julio Rodriguez. Fans now want to see the young prospects come up and lead the Mariners to the playoffs, but what would have happened if Dustin Ackley could have been the type of player he was drafted to be?
What if Dustin Ackley broke through like Ronald Acuña Jr., Juan Soto, or Fernando Tatis Jr.?
If Dustin Ackley made his debut in 2011 and had a good rookie season. He performed like every Mariners fan hopes that Julio Rodriguez will perform. Ackley slashed .273/.348/.417 with a 117 wRC+ in 90 games, earning a 3.0 WAR. If he had continued to get better and better and reached the ceiling of an Evan Longoria or Chase Utley type of player, that would change the whole trajectory of the Seattle Mariners franchise.
If Ackley had been able to be a .300/.380/.450 (an Utler prime comparison with a little less power) player who was putting up 4+ WAR seasons, then maybe the Mariners would have been able to get into the playoffs. The team won 75 games in 2012, and if they had an MVP candidate, then the club could have moved on from a 38-year-old Ichiro sooner, getting more help in the outfield, and gone for it more and traded for better players.
Having a star has proven that teams can improve overnight, and if Ackley had been like Soto or Tatis Jr., then the Mariners could have been elevated by their play. It is tough to say that they would have made the playoffs just because one player turned into a star, but the Mariners would have been much better, and maybe Ackley could have elevated the players around him.
If Dustin Ackley was a star at second base, maybe the Mariners don’t go sign Robinson Cano to a huge contract. The team could have spent the money elsewhere and on more players to improve the roster. If they did that, it would have been very possible that the M’s made the playoffs sometime before now. It is fun to dream about what could have been, especially since we now are oohing and aahing over Julio Rodriguez and others who are ranked in the same area as Ackley.
Overall, it would have been amazing to see Dustin Ackley make it in the big leagues and not bust. He was touted as a sure thing, and he was anything but. I personally made the mistake of purchasing an Ackley jersey over a Seager jersey years ago, clearly the wrong choice, but I wasn’t the only one who thought Ackley would be better. As it turned out, one of them is an all-time great Mariner, while the other is a bust and leaves fans dreaming of a what-if.