Ackley tabbed as Mariners' top prospect

Ackley ranked as Mariners' top prospect

SEATTLE -- A pipeline of talent coming through the Minor League system ranks near the top of the wish list for second-year Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik.

"I hope, as we move forward, the players we develop, the guys we are drafting and signing, here and internationally, ultimately will be what this organization is all about," he said.

The first big step in that direction during the Zduriencik regime, drafting and signing Dustin Ackley, shows up in the form of the second overall selection in last year's First-Year Player Draft being selected as the 15th-best prospect in professional baseball.

While Ackley stands alone among Mariners prospects in the Top 50, which was announced on MLB Network, it's a start for Zduriencik's overall game plan to get the Mariners back into the playoffs and eventually the World Series.

The elite list also included right-hander Phillippe Aumont at No. 47. Seattle's first-round Draft selection in 2007 was sent to the Phillies as part of the trade that brought former American League Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee to the Mariners.

Ackley starred for three seasons at the University of North Carolina -- batting at least .400 and earning All-America honors each year. He holds the record for most career hits in the College World Series.

He also has performed well in his brief pro career, batting .315 for the Arizona Fall League champion Peoria Javelinas this past season. Ackley had a stellar .412 on-base percentage against some of the most highly regarded pitchers in the Minor Leagues.

"He definitely held his own against the pitching we saw and played a crucial part in our success," Peoria manager Kevin Bradshaw said. "This [AFL season] helped him a lot to get his feet wet.

"The Mariners should be very satisfied with what he has done, but I wouldn't venture to say how close he is [to playing in the Major Leagues]. He has some mechanical things he has to fix, but is intelligent enough that it won't take long to fix them. He is jumping at the plate, but he has good enough hand-eye coordination that even though he's doing something wrong, he still has the hand-eye coordination that allows him to put the ball in play. The power comes when he stays back. It's there. It's definitely there."

The Mariners initially planned to develop Ackley as an outfielder, where he played during his first two seasons in college and again in the Arizona Fall League. But after further review, the organization decided to give the slightly built player some work at second base.

Ackley returned to the Peoria Sports Complex in early January, following a break for the holidays, and started his work as a second baseman. It has gone so well that the "experiment" might turn out to be permanent.

"I don't like to jump the gun and say it's going to happen," Minor League director Pedro Grifol said, "but in Dustin's mind, he thinks it will happen and is determined to make it happen."

Just as Zduriencik is determined to flood the Mariners system with quality players, the way he did with the Brewers, who turned a terrific Minor League system into a playoff-caliber team at the big league level.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.