Found March 11, 2014 on NorthWest Sports Beat:
It’s do-or-die time for Justin & Dustin With a new Skipper in the dugout, Lloyd McClendon, there seems to be a new swagger lurking its way through the Seattle Mariners‘ spring training complex in Arizona.  Despite my initial hesitation in the Jack Zduriencik selection of McClendon as the new M’s manager, I must admit I really like the tone he has set so far in his brief Mariners managerial career. One of the things that seems clear to me, and I’m sure is crystal clear to some of the Mariners’ younger players this year, is that if you don’t perform, McClendon is going to find someone else who will. Those words must be ringing true to two Mariners in particular this spring: The M’s first baseman of the past few seasons and the newly anointed left fielder. Dustin Ackley Dustin Ackley survived the 2013 MLB trade deadline. Will he survive 2014? In all honesty, I thought Dustin Ackley was going to be traded at the deadline last July.  The M’s were still reasonably in contention at that point and Ackley had been struggling all year.  Zduriencik ultimately did not make any late season moves, in a bizarre decision that left many, including me, wondering why he didn’t either try to make a run or sell off disappointing players in a bid to be better in 2014. Ackley was demoted mid-season last year to learn CF after spending the past couple of seasons at second base.  While the move gave rise to Nick Franklin to play second, Ackley never really looked comfortable out there in center despite having played the position in college. Arm strength is clearly an issue for Ackley in CF, as is his range to play center.  Those are the reasons I think McClendon made a brilliant decision to name him as the LF for the 2014 Spring Training season. By moving to lefteft, Ackley’s arm strength is no longer an issue and he has plenty of range to play a corner outfield spot as opposed to center. Ackley, for his part, started to change his game at the plate after getting sent back to the minors.  After the All-Star break Ackley finally started to hit again.  He wound up hitting .304 after the All-Star Game and looked much more like the player the M’s had envisioned when they drafted him second overall in 2009. Justin Smoak The Freak from Goose Creek, Justin Smoak, is in a nearly identical situation as Ackley.  Smoak arrived in Seattle as the key piece in the deal that sent Cliff Lee to the Rangers.  Expectations have always been high for the big switch-hitter since he was drafted by Texas with the 11th-overall pick in 2008. Despite the promise, Smoak has struggled at the plate the past four seasons.  His highest batting average in any of those years was .239.  Strikeouts have been a big problem for Smoak, too, as he has fanned over 100 times in each of the last three seasons. Hey, Smoak. Let’s focus on hits and not just homers… Defensively, Smoak has been pretty close to brilliant.  He can pick the low throws out of the dirt and has more range at first than most would ever like to give him credit for.   In fact, he’s committed just 21 errors over the course of four seasons. Smoak has had the tendency the past few years to put up big numbers in one half of the season while struggling mightily the other.  Last year was no exception to this trend. Pre All-Star game, Smoak hit .272 with 13 doubles, eight homers and 22 RBI.  His Ops was over .800 and OB % was close to .400.  Then it all fell apart. After the break, Smoak managed to hit just .203 with six doubles.  His Ops plummeted below .700 and his OB % dropped below .300.  On the plus side, he did hit an additional 12 homers after the break. In addition to the strikeouts, I think those second-half number are very telling about Smoak as a young player.  He had to have gone into the break feeling pretty good about himself last year.  It’s almost as if he starts trying to do too much at the plate at times and has a hard time coming back to earth once he struggles. I say that because of the HR totals Smoak put up in the second half of 2013.  He hit 12 homers post All-Star, while batting just .203.  It seems once Smoak gets going with the bat a bit he starts to swing for the fence too often.  This leads to just a few more homers but a lot more strikeouts along with a much lower batting average. The 1500 AB Plateau Will Justin Smoak have reason to smile in 2014? I’ve long been a proponent of the theory that it takes around 1500 Major League at-bats to really see what you’ve got in a young hitter.  Ackley is currently sitting on 1324 at-bats.  He appeared to have finally figured out his bat in the second half last year and now he’s also in a defensive position that is much better suited to his talents.  Can he carry his 2013 successes into 2014? I say yes.  Put simply:  Dustin Ackley is ready to breakout in 2014.  I look for Ackley to hit near .300 this season and do so for the entire season. Justin Smoak has a few more ABs in his career than Ackley.  Smoak is sitting at 1712.  McClendon has stated this spring that he thinks Smoak can lead the majors in doubles.  This is yet another brilliant move by McClendon. Lloyd sees what I see.  He sees a young hitter who gets going, gets cocky, and then thinks he can hit the ball out of the park on every pitch.   By telling the world that Smoak can lead the league in Doubles it’s given Smoak something else to focus on instead of hitting dingers. I foresee Smoak hitting in the neighborhood of 40 doubles this year.  He’s also going to bat for a better average as a result.  Watch for something around the .270-.275 mark for Smoak. The other thing Smoak will finally learn this year is that you don’t try to hit homers, they just happen.  As a result, Smoak crosses over into the 25-30 HR range for 2014. This it for Ackley and Smoak in Seattle.  It’s do-or-die time, as both will be well over 1500 ABs by the All-Star break.  If either of them struggles yet again, I guess I’ll be writing about who Seattle can get for them at the trade deadline in July. CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE MARINERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!
THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
RELATED ARTICLES

Mariners aiming for late April return for starters Iwakuma, Walker

The Mariners are said to be hoping for a late April return for recovering pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker. Unofficially, the hope is that both pitchers can be back by sometime during the third week of April. That sounds pretty specific, but every day counts when a team with playoff aspirations is piecing together most of a rotation early in the year. Walker (shoulder...

Mariners' Corey Hart has 'minor' problems, should play this weekend

Seattle Mariners right fielder Corey Hart left Tuesday's Spring Training game due to tendinitis in his right forearm. He also experienced tightness in his back. Hart, though, says that both problems are minor and that he expects to play again by the upcoming weekend. The Tacoma News Tribune's Bo Dutton announced Hart's claim early Wednesday evening.#Mariners RF Corey...

2014 MLB Preview: Seattle Mariners

If they handed out an award for winning the offseason the Seattle Mariners might have earned it with their signing of Robinson Cano. In case you already forgot they gave the former Yankees second baseman a 10-year, $240 million contract. The real question is even by signing Cano are they any better than fourth place in what maybe the most competitive division in Major League Baseball...

Paxton continues to prove he belongs

James Paxton is showing improved command and consistency this spring for the Mariners, building on the impressive late-season success he had in 2013 and working towards nailing down a spot in the Mariners' rotation for the coming season.

Mariners, Mets Rumors: Seattle Mariners scouting the New York Mets

The Seattle Mariners seem to be popping up in a lot of trade speculation lately.  The latest speculation is the Mariners are scouting the New York Mets for unknown reasons.  This came from a tweet by Adam Rubin of ESPN: Mariners again double-teaming scouting #Mets Grapefruit League game Monday. Been religiously attending Mets games.— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) March 10, 2014Via...

Nick Franklin Answers So Many Mets Questions

It appears the day is nearing when the Mets and Mariners will once again discuss displaced infielder, Nick Franklin.  Seattle has been monitoring the Mets spring, even doubling the number of scouts in attendance at yesterday's game.  While it remains a mystery exactly what Seattle will eventually ask for in return for Franklin, its becoming clear that the Mets are going to...

Mariners Still Looking To Move Franklin, Scouting The Mets

If you think it’s too late for teams to swing deals, think again. The Mariners are still actively scouting the Mets according to a report by ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin. He states that Seattle has been religiously attending Mets games, and doubled their scouting contingent in Port St. Lucie on Monday. It’s no secret that Seattle is shopping shortstop Nick Franklin and MLB...

White Sox, Mariners Rumors: Michael Saunders for Dayan Viciedo in the works?

The Chicago White Sox & Seattle Mariners have had talks about the potential swap of outfielders.  Dayan Viciedo is in the midst of a spring training battle with Alejandro De Aza for the starting left field position.  Michael Saunders has fallen out of favor in Seattle due to his bat but can play any of the outfield positions.  Jason Churchill of 1090 AM in Seattle tweeted...

Dustin Ackley at the crossroads of career

It is too early to call Seattle Mariners Dustin Ackley a bust. It is too early to declare that the Mariners made a mistake when drafting him 2nd overall in the 2009 draft. It is too early for the M’s front office to conclude that the 26-year-old doesn’t fit into the club’s long term plans, but the clock is ticking. With a little under two service years in the big leagues...

Pineda vs. Montero: Who Won the Trade?

It’s been two years since the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners shocked the baseball world by swapping up-and-coming star talents Jesus Montero and Michael Pineda. And, two years later, neither player has panned out with the star-studded career that their respective franchises envisioned. Both have struggled with lost time (Pineda to injuries, Montero to a PED suspension...

Hitting Enough for Left Field

Ever since he was drafted, Dustin Ackley has been looked at as a losing proposition as a corner outfielder by many, but a closer look at the numbers he's already producing shows that the hitter Ackley is now could be a perfect fit in left for the Mariners.
MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.