Mariners first-rounders Dustin Ackley, Josh Fields putting in extra work
Mariners reliever Josh Fields and second baseman Dustin Ackley, the team's most recent first-round draft choices, are working hard at spring training. Fields is working on mechanics and Ackley, a former outfielder, is learning a new position.
Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — They are a pair of recent No. 1 draft picks working extra hours to establish themselves with the Mariners.
But the reasons for the work put in by second baseman Dustin Ackley and closer Josh Fields are as different as the roles they fill. Fields is using the extra "drywork" sessions to fix mechanical problems that overshadowed his professional debut last year; Ackley is being broken in at a new position and trying to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb.
Both players could be in Mariners uniforms by 2011 and hope the work put in behind the scenes helps accelerate that process.
"I used to do it in college quite a bit," Fields, 24, a first-rounder from 2008 out of the University of Georgia, said Friday of his after-practice sessions. "I'd kind of gotten away from it a little bit. But this year, they've really been focusing in on things that I need to be working on. And that's what's been helping me out. Not just doing drywork for the sake of going through it, but working on the right stuff."
That stuff mostly involves creating "good ground angles" by fixing his posture and properly positioning the knee and foot of his push-off leg so his lower body can generate more power on his pitches. Fields, who posted a 6.48 earned-run average in 31 Class AA outings, used to throw a 95-mph fastball in college, but was stuck around 91-92 mph last season when he admittedly tried to do too much and his command and mechanics deserted him.
"It seems simple, and it is," Fields said of the footwork. "But getting out there, when you're not thinking on the mound, you always go back to what you're most comfortable with and used to. It's coming around."
In the case of Ackley, taken No. 2 overall last June, the organization decided in December to move him from left field to second base. He's been working out there since, but took time after Friday's session to go over double-play footwork and throws with shortstop Jack Wilson.
"Today was one of the first days I've been doing extra stuff, but I think I'm going to be doing it every other day from now on," Ackley said. "I've been working out for a while now but it's always been with coaches. The only thing really big for me now is just getting out there with other players. That way, you see their arm angles and how good their arms are so I think that's going to be really good for me." He takes every chance he can get to query Wilson about everything from footwork to the glove he uses.
"I ask him how he breaks them in and what kind of gloves he likes and things like that," Ackley said. "I've only been playing this position a little bit and I don't really have a glove I like just yet, so I ask around."
Wilson said Ackley seems to be getting his footwork down.
"He asks a lot of questions, which you like to see," Wilson said.
Ackley added that he's trying not to put too much pressure on himself in his first big-league camp. He's getting a kick out of suiting up alongside players "I'm used to seeing on TV," but said going to Safeco Field last September and spending two days working out with the Mariners helped him get to know the team and made it less intimidating coming to Arizona.
Fields didn't have that luxury, since he signed a couple of days into 2009 spring training. He admits it was a bit unnerving coming into camp and not knowing anyone and that the pressure he put on himself to succeed likely carried over to his season.
But Fields enjoyed a strong Arizona Fall League — where he teamed with Ackley — despite still having mechanical woes. He said the experience of being able to pitch well on days he didn't have his best stuff was great for him mentally and left him in a positive frame of mind coming to camp.
"He's more relaxed," Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair said. "He's gone through his first full year and understands the importance of commanding the zone, the importance of his changeup. He's grinding at all that."
Fields was in street clothes after a team workout the other day when Adair asked to meet with him about some of his mound mechanics. When the meeting was done, Fields donned his uniform again and asked Adair to meet him in the bullpen to try some of his suggestions out.
That type of after-hours dedication helped David Aardsma transform his career last spring. Aardsma was in the bullpen Friday doing some after-hours drywork at the same time as Fields, who said the Seattle closer told him about the benefits his added sessions last year had.
"I appreciated hearing that," Fields said. "Because it shows you what can happen if you put the work in."
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners
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