SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Anyone who saw Dustin Ackley in April probably could not envision the Mariners' second-base prospect taking home any kind of award for his on-field performance.
The 2009 first-round pick, taken No. 2 overall, seemed lost in the opening month of his pro career. Deemed the most natural hitter in the '09 Draft class, Ackley was looking at a .147 average and .516 OPS following the season's opening month.
Yet here it is, nearly seven months since that inauspicious beginning, and Ackley is the 2010 Arizona Fall League MVP.
"That's an awesome feeling," Ackley said of receiving the award before Saturday's championship game. "In April, I didn't think I could hit any more. As far as I've come, with hitting and defense, it's really special. I watched Grant Desme win it last year, the MVP, and he had put up great numbers during the season and in the Fall League. It's really special to take it in after him."
It would be difficult to find anyone who wouldn't think Ackley was deserving. He won the AFL batting title with a .424 average, but that was far from all he accomplished. He also topped the league in on-base percentage (.581), slugging (.758), OPS (1.338) and runs scored (28), all while also going a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen-base attempts.
"I feel really good," said Ackley, who helped the Peoria Javelinas make it to their second straight title game. "My body definitely has been feeling tired lately after a long season, but I feel really good where I'm at defensively and hitting wise. I feel I've come a long way with second base, with double plays and ground balls. I think it was a big help to come out here."
Ackley did start to pick it up as the calendar hit May, with a .304 average for the rest of his time in Double-A. But he still wasn't really driving the ball consistently. Early in the season, he was lunging at pitches and even when he started to get going, he was described more as a handsy hitter. That clearly has improved in the Fall League as half of Ackley's hits (14 of 28) were for extra bases.
"That's been the biggest thing, just staying back and driving balls," Ackley said. "This fall, I've hit offspeed pitches the best I ever have. Out of my four home runs, I think three of them have been on two-strike offspeed pitches.
"I'm just feeling comfortable. I feel so much more comfortable in the box as far as timing goes. I feel more powerful in the box, I'm using my legs more. It's helped me throughout the season, just learning myself and what I was struggling with early on, what I need to focus on when I'm hitting."
Keep in mind that Ackley has done all of this while learning a new position on the fly. He had been an outfielder and first baseman, the latter largely because of an elbow injury, at the University of North Carolina. When he came to the AFL last year to make his unofficial pro debut, he played only the outfield. So he didn't really have the chance to focus more on his hitting woes when he broke out of the gate so slowly.
"Early in the season, I was still doing early work every day defensively," Ackley said. "I was doing early work, but I wasn't doing any hitting. I was struggling hitting and also struggling at second, so it was kind of tough to weigh both of those out. Everything was going wrong. After that, I started slowing everything down, took a deep breath and everything started to come more easily then."
He spent the second half of the season with Triple-A Tacoma, hit .274/.338/.439 in 52 games there, then hit a couple of homers to help the Rainiers win the Pacific Coast League crown. The move up clearly did Ackley some good, the benefits of which showed up in Peoria this fall.
"I think it did," Ackley agreed. "New scenery, the ballparks in Triple-A are easier to hit in than they are in Double-A. I felt I was flying out a lot to the deeper parts in Southern League parks. Moving up definitely helped me with confidence. I was doing better towards the end of the Double-A first half, so that helped me, too."