Dustin Ackley Scouting Report

September 17, 2009

I had the pleasure of watching UNC first baseman Dustin Ackley a dozen or so times over the past couple years. It's evident to everyone who's spent any time watching him that he's a special prospect. Watching Ackley walk onto a college field was like watching Matt Damon walk into the judge's game in the movie Rounders. Some guys are so far beyond their competition that it almost defies description.

Physical Description

Dustin Ackley stands 6-foot-1 inches tall and carries 184 pounds on his thin, wiry, athletic frame. He has strong legs with sort of a runner's body type. A rare right handed thrower who hits left handed, Ackley could carry a little more bulk on his frame but doesn't offer much physical projection from here on out.


I've spent reams of virtual paper espousing the statistical exploits of Dustin Ackley, but I was shocked when I went back to double check a couple old UNC games I had stored on my DVR because I hadn't realized how much better Dustin Ackley can get. Ackley has been thought of by most, including yours truly, as a mostly finished product. I now have a slightly different view.

Ackley begins his swing with a fairly wide-open stance; he then steps towards home plate as he begins his stride. What I've noticed from my HD, super slow-mo replays of several at-bats is that Ackley has a tendency to stride too far towards home plate and he closes himself off early in his swing. This cuts off his weight shift slightly and leads to a soft front side -- and occasionally leaky front side -- subverting his power potential. 

(I've tried to find a good video illustrating this, but there is surprisingly little good video of Ackley hitting.) 

Ackley's swing, as a result, can get a bit 'handsy' as he relied primarily on his upper body to make aluminum hit leather. The good news is that this would be a relatively easy fix. Simply focusing on shortening up his stride, and maybe opening up a little bit, would do wonders to firm up his front side and increase his power.


Dustin Ackley walked in 16.4% of his plate appearances last season, displaying one of the most advanced batting eyes in all of college ball. College walk rate has a strong correlation to professional walk rate and to MLB success. Dustin Ackley's outstanding zone and pitch recognition virtually assure that he will post at least solid on-base-percentages at the major league level.

Ackley has a gap-to-gap approach and utilizes the entire field. He's more than happy to take a pitch on the outer third of the plate and line it over the third baseman's head or pull an inside offering down the right field line.

I have not seen an amateur player who carries as advanced of an approach as Ackley while constantly making hard-contact.  Even with slightly imperfect mechanics, Ackley seems born to hit. And he's very good at it.


In our most recent chat our resident swing doc, Steve Carter, said that he viewed Dustin Ackley as, "Will Clark redux. I see him being a perennial .310+ hitter with 15 home runs." I would like to add that he's Will Clark with 70 speed.  

Calling a first baseman a plus-plus runner is rare, and it's the primary reason why MLB scouts are confident in Ackley's ability to handle center field despite very little evidence during his college career. He might be just a 65 runner, but it sounds a lot cooler to call him Will Clark with 70 speed, so indulge me.  Speed is an imperfect proxy for range, but Ackley should have the raw foot speed to cover ample ground in SAFECO's center field.

Ackley played first base in college primarily because after he underwent Tommy John surgery, his arm strength prohibited him from making any throw longer than a flip to the pitcher's mound. He seems to be fully healed from his stint under the knife and his arm should be a solid average tool. Even if it's not, there are plenty of good defensive center fielders with below-average arms. 

If arm strength is the biggest knock you have on a player, you're looking a pretty terrific young talent. 

Ackley still gets an incomplete grade in regards to his defense.  He'll need time to hone his routes and experience to read the ball off the bat, but the physical tools are there to be a very good defender at a key position. Even if Ackley has to shift to left field, it shouldn't affect his long-term value much.  


Dustin Ackley is one of the most polished, patient, well-rounded hitters to come out of college in a long while.  He's on the same tier as guys like Justin Smoak, Gordon Beckham, Buster Posey, Matt Wieters, and Evan Longoria. Ackley should consistently be among the league leaders in batting average as well as OBP, with the potential for more power after a few mechanical tweaks. He could do this while being a good defender at a key, up-the-middle position.

His ultimate upside is a Chase Utley-type, MVP caliber all-around player. While it's unlikely that any player will reach that level, I think it's important to note that Ackley's upside has been undersold. I'm not reserving a hotel room for 2031 in Cooperstown just yet, and the odds are against there being a Dustin Ackley day in the Emerald City. But as far as prospects go, Ackley provides as good a combination of high-ceiling and high-floor as you'll find. Assuming he can stay healthy, Ackley is as good a bet to be at least an above-average big leaguer as you can find for a player yet to make his professional debut.


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