As we anxiously await the beginning of the Winter Meeting and the possibility of our favorite Major League Baseball teams adding that one significant piece to take them to the next level, let’s stoke the fantasy hot stove with some prospect talk. This series on prospects will cover a wide range of players as well as positions. We’ll cover sleepers as well as some of the more obvious stars of the future.

The first prospect in the series is not much of a sleeper. Dustin Ackley was taken second in the 2009 MLB Draft, right after the much ballyhooed Stephen Strasburg. Seattle drafted the University of North Carolina outfielder/first baseman with the intention of moving him to second base. The transition seems to be going well, with health being the only real concern for Ackley.

Ackley was moved from outfield to first base at UNC because of an elbow injury that resulted in Tommy John surgery in the summer before his junior year of college. Since Ackley is so athletic, the transition to second base hasn’t seemed to be a problem and the throw won’t put a lot of strain on the surgically repaired elbow. As a former centerfielder, Ackley seems to have the range and quickness needed to handle the defensive side of the job.

For position players, the most important tool is the bat and there are no questions that Ackley can hit. When drafted, then Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu referred to Ackley by saying, “his bat is special.” Ackley batted over .400 in each of his three college seasons, being named All-America in each season. He began his professional career by playing 20 games in the 2009 Arizona Fall League and batting .315. In 2010, he posted a .267/7 HR/51 RBI/10 SB line in 134 games in Double and Triple-A.

Ackley scorched the Arizona Fall League, posting a .424/4 HR/19 RBI/5 SB/28 R line for the season. He lead the AFL in AVG, OBP (.581), SLG (.758), OPS (1.338), and runs scored, while finishing one behind the league leader in doubles and homers, despite missing a week with a sprained finger. There is little left to prove for Ackley and a position in Seattle’s starting lineup seems inevitable.

Ackley looks like a high batting average, high on base percentage type of player. He has a little pop in his bat, but the deep power alleys at Safeco Field seem a good fit for his doubles power. He also has decent wheels, so look for stolen bases as well. He looks to be a Dustin Pedroia-type player with a few more doubles and a few less homers.

As it stands right now, the Seattle Mariners appear to be opening up third base without the intention of filling the position externally. That leaves us to assume that Chone Figgins will be moved back to third base (he wasn’t a good fit at second base with a -12.3 UZR in 2010) and open up the keystone for Ackley.

The only questions left to answer are up to the big league club. Will they trade away Jose Lopez and move Figgins to third base? Will they allow Ackley to start the season with Seattle and start his Major League service time now or wait until June and hope to get an extra year out of him?

With a fairly weak crop of second basemen across the Majors, it seems like Ackley will be an above average or better fantasy player. He will produce in all fantasy areas and be an asset to your club. Don’t expect a huge season in 2011, but a .300/6 HR/70 RBI/15 SB/80 R line seems very realistic. In a few years, you can expect to see him putting up .325/15 HR/90 RBI/20 SB/100 R seasons with regular occurrence.

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