I started off today trying to write an entry on the 2011 draft. Specifically, I wanted to write about how the Nationals' choice of Anthony Rendon was the smartest pick. I found that others smarter than I (such as Rob Neyer) had written on the topic. In general, I believed that picking the best college hitter was a lower risk, higher reward proposition. After some research, I still believe that - JD Drew, Todd Helton and Mark Teixeira were the top hitters taken in their classes in the last 15 years, but compiling the data is taking more time than I expected. I will say though, that strategy-wise, the Nationals did the best job in this draft, taking the #1 college hitter and a high risk type in pitcher Alex Meyer of Kentucky with their second 1st rounder.
I'll be attempting to come up with a more substantive follow-up, but one data point I came across doesn't need more time, research or discussion. Dustin Ackley needs to be in the major leagues.
Ackley was taken 2nd overall in the 2009 draft behind Stephen Strasburg. In three years at UNC, Ackley hit .412/.487/.648, with a power surge his junior year vaulting him to "best college hitter" status. The only questions about him were what position he would end up at, and whether his power would translate to the pros.
In his first minor league season, these questions proved legitimate. The Mariners were trying Ackley at 2B, where he received mixed reviews from scouts, and he also hit only 7 home runs in 587 PA. The conventional wisdom was that Ackley's batting average would carry him at 2B, but if he needed to move to a corner position, he would need to add power. This kept him out of many top 10 lists heading into the 2011 season.
Fast forward a couple months. With a .305/.421/.504 300 PA into the 2011 season, Ackley has been rightly getting significant attention. With 16 doubles, 3 triples and 9 home runs, the power concerns have been alleviated some. While granting that the Pacific Coast League is a great place to hit, Tacoma plays pretty neutral, unlike, say, Albuquerque or Colorado Springs.
While Ackley has been raking, the Mariners are 31-30, good for second place in the AL West, only 2.5 games behind the Texas Rangers. This despite being dead last in batting average, OBP and SLG. Mariner 2B are hitting .286/.331/.396 (despite the best efforts of Jack Wilson); LF are hitting .211/.277/.360. So it's pretty fair to assume that Ackley would out-produce their 2B, and hard to picture him NOT being an upgrade in left, while spotting a slumping Ichiro in RF.
The Mariners insist that Ackley is in the minors to work on his defense, but it's hard to believe it's not to protect themselves against his reaching "Super Two" status. As a Super Two player, Ackley would reach arbitration (but not free agency) a year earlier costing them a few million dollars. So instead, they are leaving him in the minor leagues longer than he needs to be, potentially costing them a playoff shot.
This strikes me as short-sighted. First of all, Mariner fans deserve the best team possible on the field the organization can produce, and it's not clear that they're getting that. Furthermore, as I discussed in a previous post on Eric Hosmer, there are pretty significant financial benefits to making the playoffs - bonuses, merchandise, ticket sales, future season ticket packages, and so on. Missing out because you're trying to save a few bucks would be the definition of being penny wise and pound foolish.
A bigger issue here is that the "Super Two" status is not working. Instead of helping players just under the 3-year arbitration point get paid earlier, it just keeps them in the minors longer. This is bad for the players, the fans and the teams. There have been suggested fixes, such as the one posted today by Dave Cameron at FanGraphs, but I'm not sure such a radical restructuring of free agency is a) necessary, or b) conceivable. It's more likely that the Super Two designation will just be dropped entirely.
With a change likely when the CBA expires, it makes even less sense for the Mariners to keep Ackley in the minors. They are missing out on valuable at bats without him, and are endangering their playoff chances by doing so.