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Mariners add offense in first round

Mariners add offense in first round

SEATTLE -- The Mariners went back to college on Tuesday afternoon, selecting Dustin Ackley from the University of North Carolina as the first of their two first-round picks in the First-Year Player Draft.

It was not a surprise.

Based on pre-Draft speculation, Ackley figured to be the second player selected.

And sure enough, several minutes after the Nationals chose right-handed pitcher Stephen Strasburg out of San Diego State as No. 1 overall, the Mariners went on the offensive and chose the best hitter available.

"We think this guy has potential to be middle-of-the-lineup hitter," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "This was the guy we think could be [in the Majors] in a short period of time and help this organization as we move forward.

"He's an athletic kid. He can run. He's got a great swing."

Zduriencik predicted a "really nice future in Seattle" for Ackley, but would not give a prediction on how long he thought it would take Ackley to reach the big leagues.

"He's not going to be that far away, but you don't want to put labels and time frames on kids," the GM said. "We think it will be a short period of time before he's a big leaguer."

The Mariners then turned their focus on their second first-round choice, just the third time in franchise history they had multiple Draft choices in the first round.

Besides the No. 2 selection -- the highest the Mariners have been since 1993, when they were No. 1 and selected high school shortstop Alex Rodriguez -- Seattle had the 27th and 33rd overall choices as compensation for losing outfielder Raul Ibanez to free agency.

With their 27th pick, the Mariners selected shortstop Nick Franklin out of the same high school, Lake Brantley, in Orlando, Fla., that produced Jason Varitek, Rickie Weeks and Felipe Lopez. And then, with the 33rd pick, Seattle selected catcher Steven Baron from Ferguson High School in Miami, who has signed a letter-of-intent to play for Duke University.

Amateur scouting director Tom McNamara described Franklin as a baseball version of a basketball gym rat.

"He's a very confident player," McNamara said of the 6-foot-1, 190 pound switch-hitter.

Confidence is the same game Ackley plays.

He led the Tar Heels to their fourth straight College World Series this season, batting .412 with 22 home runs and 70 RBIs. He holds school records for most hits (338), most runs scored (225) and total bases (535). He also has hit 39 home runs during his college career.

Ackley said during a conference call that he was "excited" to be selected by the Mariners and would be willing to play any position the organization desires.

An outfielder during his first two seasons at UNC, he primarily played first base this season after undergoing Tommy John ligament replacement surgery last August. He said his arm is "probably the best it has ever been."

He said he could have played the outfield more often this season, but the Tar Heels needed him at first base.

The 21-year-old was recently selected as the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and first-team Louisville Slugger All-America -- the first three-time All-America selection in UNC history.

He was superb the entire season, but out-of-this-world during last weekend's NCAA Super Regionals against East Carolina. Ackley went 10-for-14 with one home run and three doubles.

Though invited to New York for the First-Year Player Draft, Ackley decided to remain in Chapel Hill N.C., with his family and watch the Draft on MLB Network.

His travel plans include a Thursday departure for Omaha, Neb., where the Tar Heels will open the College World Series on Sunday afternoon against Arizona State.

He has been on the McNamara radar screen for quite awhile.

"There were a couple of guys out there in the mix, but he stood out for us," McNamara said. "We started following him 1 1/2 years ago and have seen him a lot. Like any player coming back from surgery, we scouted him as much as possible. Midway through the season, Dustin was our guy."

The next step is getting him signed. Seattle has until Aug. 17 to reach an agreement with Ackley and his representative, Scott Boras.

Zduriencik said contract talks would not begin until after the Tar Heels finish the College World Series.

"I haven't even thought about that," Ackley said of contract negotiations. "I am focused on the College World Series. I'll put that [signing] on the back burner."

Seattle's second-round Draft choice (51st overall) was University of Georgia first baseman Rich Poythress.

With four of the first 51 picks, this could turn out to be one of the most productive Drafts in franchise history.

"It's a lot of picks and we've got to get them right," McNamara said heading into the Draft. "Jack keeps telling me, 'Just get them right.' That's all he's been saying for the last three weeks. We don't have much conversation, he just says, 'Get them right.' "

Ackley becomes the fourth college player in the past five years to selected first by the Mariners. Jeff Clement, a catcher out of University of Southern California, was No. 1 in 2005, followed by pitcher Brandon Morrow, from the University of California-Berkeley in '06, and University of Georgia reliever Josh Fields last year.

The only exception was in '07, when the Mariners tabbed right-handed high school pitcher Phillippe Aumont.

The Mariners ended the first day of the Draft by selecting Ackley's UNC teammate, Kyle Seager, who played second and third base for the Tar Heels.

Mariners Day One selections:

Round 1: Dustin Ackley, 1B/OF, University of North Carolina: The three-time All-America selection has a sweet swing from the left side, perfectly suited for Safeco Field. He has 105 multiple-hit games during his 204-game college career. The Mariners see him as a future fixture in their outfield, possibly in center field.

Round 1: Nick Franklin, SS, Lake Brantley High School (Longwood, Fla.): Franklin is a versatile player who started at shortstop for Lake Brantley's 2008 state title team, hitting .433 with six home runs, 12 doubles and 38 runs scored. He also can pitch and play the outfield. The switch-hitter has verbally committed to play baseball at Auburn University.

Compensation Round: Steven Baron, C, Ferguson High School (Miami): The 6-foot, 190-pounder is developing as a hitter, hitting two home runs in his first 87 at-bats during his senior season. The strong-armed receiver caught 54.2 percent (13-of-24) of attempted base stealers this season, including the last 10. He has signed on to play baseball at Duke University.

Round 2: Rich Poythress, 1B, University of Georgia: Was named the 2009 National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association District IV Player of the Year after finishing the season with a .376 average, 25 home runs and a single-season school record 86 RBIs. Poythress became the first player in Georgia history to have two 70-RBI seasons. Poythress was named to the Louisville Slugger All-America team this year.

Round 3: Kyle Seager, INF, University of North Carolina: He's not in the same ballpark as Ackley, but the left-handed batter can swing the stick well. He's played both second and third well, but most feel he's best suited for the former, where his offensive skill set profiles better. He lacks power, but is regarded as a "pretty good" offensive middle infielder.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["first-year_player_draft" ] }