Ackley rejoins Mariners with eye on roster spot

Seattle's 2009 first-round pick returns to spring camp on Minors deal

February 19th, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- When arrived for his first Spring Training with the Mariners in 2011, he was part of a youth movement designed to help first-year manager Eric Wedge get things turned around in Seattle.

As the club's first-round Draft pick in 2009 -- and the second player taken overall behind of the Nationals -- Ackley was the sure-thing second baseman with the natural swing and can't-miss potential.

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So, yeah, there is irony now that Ackley has come full circle, returning to the Mariners this spring not as a heralded bonus baby, but as a 30-year-old veteran on a Minor League deal just looking for a chance to get some at-bats and revive a career spent in Triple-A with the Angels the past two seasons.

Ackley's signing flies in the face of the Mariners' newest youth movement and he's a long shot to crack a Major League roster spot coming out of camp, but then, Ackley never has quite followed his expected baseball path.

"It's a good spot to be in for me right now, even though if you'd told me that a couple months ago, I'd have thought you were crazy thinking I'd be back here," he said, back in the Mariners' clubhouse for the first time since he was traded to the Yankees on July 30, 2015. "But it's a cool opportunity. I'd have thought there'd have been a call from 29 other teams first. That's just how it goes. You never know what's going to happen."

That was certainly true of Ackley's initial time in Seattle, where he wound up batting just .243/.306/.366 with a 92 OPS+ in four and a half years before being shipped to the Yankees. He dislocated his shoulder and needed surgery in 2016, then wound up in the Minors with the Angels and hit .286/.378/.398 in 72 games for Salt Lake last year.

Ackley says he's healthy now and believes he's still got something to offer, having learned many life lessons through his trials and tribulations as a big-time prospect who struggled to live up to those expectations.

Some of that flooded back when he walked into the old familiar Peoria clubhouse, where the only former teammates still remaining are , and .

"The ups, the downs, there was a lot of it," he said. "I'm focusing on all the good now. I know I'm a different player now then I was a long time ago when I was first coming up here. I've learned a lot through my failures and I think I can take that into this spring and run with it."

What has changed?

"Physically, mentally, my swing, everything. I went through struggles in every aspect," Ackley said. "Being able to learn from that and having the last few years to deal with some injuries, but at same time, being able to work on some stuff at the Triple-A level has really benefited me. I'm just trying to grind it out and continue to get better. I think I've done that."

The Mariners certainly aren't guaranteeing Ackley a spot. His name came up from agent Scott Boras while Seattle was pursuing Japanese free agent Yusei Kikuchi in December, and Ackley inked his deal in January after Kikuchi's signing.

After playing second base and then the outfield during his Seattle tenure, Ackley lined up at first base, as well as in the outfield and even a little second base during his Triple-A time with the Angels organization. The Mariners have him working with the outfielders early in camp, but he's willing to go wherever needed.

"Maybe I'm not as fast as when I came up and maybe I'm not all those things prospect-wise that I used to be," he said. "But I'm a better hitter now. I'm way more consistent. I'm able to fix things at-bat to at-bat, where back then it might take weeks or months and kind of snowballed.

"I'm prepared for whatever comes at me," he said. "I'm out to win a job. Whatever job that is, I'm just going to fight for it. I'm just happy to have an opportunity here to have some at-bats and show what I can do."