Dustin Ackley will improve, question is, how much?

Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE

Owners were cautious with Dustin Ackley heading into 2012, which turned out to be the correct call. Let's take a look at what fantasy owners can expect from the North Carolina native in 2013.

If one thing was certain when the Mariner's drafted Dustin Ackley with the 2nd overall pick in 2009, it was his bat. After all Ackley did lead the nation with 119 hits in 2007, while hitting .402 in 73 games played. Ackley would go on to hit .417 the following two seasons to finish up his college career. Scouts agreed the bat speed and control would make him a top pick, with his defensive position and power potential being the real questions leading up to the draft. While Ackley has settled in much better than most anticipated at second base, and his 12 home runs last year are nice to see, it was his bat and approach at the plate that let him down his sophomore year.

In 2012 we witnessed Ackley's BB% drop to single digits (8.8%), his K% (18.6%) continue to be a problem for a player who was supposed to be a pure hitter, and his ISO drop from .144 his rookie season to .102 last year. In watching most of his games it was clear he was not staying on the ball like he did in 2011, causing him to roll over on pitches located on the inner half for easy outs to the right side. On top of that, Ackley was horrible against the slider, hitting just .196 against it in 2012. Once a pitcher got ahead of Dustin, there was a good chance a slider was coming, not always in the zone and he'd either swing and miss, or hit the ball lightly in the infield for an out. When Dustin is at his best, he's spraying the ball to the opposite field, which in turn may diminish his home run power slightly if he's able to make the adjustment heading into 2013.

From a fantasy standpoint, it was not all bad for Ackley. After starting the season hitting second for the Mariners (and spending a couple of weeks towards the bottom of the order) Ackley settled in as the teams lead off hitter, which allowed him to rack up 84 runs for the soft hitting M's. Runs are often said to be the forgotten stat in rotisserie play, and it may shock some to learn his 84 in 2012 was 10th among all eligible second basemen, and 5th among AL second basemen. To go along with the runs, Ackley posted double digit totals in both home runs (12) and stolen bases (13), while driving in 50. The only negative Ackley brought to fantasy rosters was a putrid .226 batting average. This figure cancelled out all of the production he gained in runs, leaving him as a very light, 3 tool fantasy option.

So what do fantasy owners have to look forward to in 2013? The quick answer: His 2012 season with an improved batting average.

Here's what we know. Even with the offensive problems the Mariners had last year, Ackley was still able to score plenty of runs. The team has some money and is looking to upgrade the middle of their order, and I expect Ackley to reach base at a better clip in 2013. The runs will continue to be there; I have him down for 89 in my early projections. In terms of power/speed, Ackley could luck into a 15/15 season if everything goes right, however, I'd only bet a paycheck on the stolen bases reaching that number, with his power output staying the same this coming year. You're not drafting Ackley for his RBI's, but they do factor in, and 50 is the highest I can project, and honestly, I don't feel great about it. The big question concerning Ackley's value for next season is his batting average. While I don't expect him to turn into a .280 hitter next year, I also believe he'll work on his mechanics this off season, and his BABIP (.265) will normalize some, leading to a .268 average.

Lastly, some will point to the fence changes taking place this off season in Seattle as another reason Ackley could bounce back next year. While we don't know exactly how the park will play, the significant changes are occurring in left/left-center, and Ackley's power is to right/right-center. Had the fences been in their new configuration last year, Ackley's homer total would increase by 2.

I currently have Ackley as my 15th second basemen in mixed leagues, one spot ahead of Howie Kendrick. (Which just happens to line up with the Consensus Rankings of Ray, Bret, Jason and Craig.) If you tend to use your MI and 4th/5th OF spots to acquire cheaper steals, Ackley is a great target later in mixed leagues, and will pad your run category in the process. He will be owned in all AL only leagues and is currently my 10th second basemen in this format.

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