Ackley's stance was slightly opened and his left-handed swing looked smooth and easy, surely the way North Carolina fans remembered it during his All-American career with the Tar Heels. It's the same sweet swing that helped convince the Seattle Mariners to select Ackley with the second overall pick in last June's amateur draft.
Although Ackley has gotten off to an uncharacteristically slow start for the Double-A West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, he remains confident and determined as he enters his first full season of professional baseball.
"I am still working, trying to get adjusted," Ackley told FanHouse, taking a break between swings three hours before West Tennessee's game against the Mobile BayBears here at
"It has definitely been tough, tougher than I thought. You are playing six, seven days a week. There are no outside distractions, no more worrying about classes. Hopefully, I will get this first month under my belt, get adjusted to the changes and start hitting better."
It certainly has been a season of changes for Ackley, 22.
Ackley played center field his first two years at UNC and first base following elbow surgery during his junior year, earning All-America honors each year. He was an accomplished shortstop, third baseman and pitcher in high school, where he was a Louisville Slugger All-American. While Ackley was playing in the outfield during the Arizona Fall League, the Mariners decided to "experiment" and move him to the infield.
Hello, second base.
"Towards the end of the Fall League they told me there was a chance I could maybe move to second base, that somebody had the idea of me playing there," said Ackley, who played almost everywhere on a diamond, from youth league to college, with the exception of one position -- you guessed it, second base.
"They told me to keep it in mind, they said we don't know for sure if we are going to do it," Ackley said. "But they said if they did, we are going to go all the way with it. We are not going to play just a little bit there, a little bit in the outfield; we are going to go all the way. After the Fall League they were like, well, we are really going to do this."
And the Mariners did.
Ackley remained in camp in Arizona in December, spending nearly three months learning the new position. He also stood out during his month-long stay in the Mariners' big-league camp during spring training, displaying the range and athleticism to learn and handle a tougher position.
"He's doing really well, and we're extremely happy with his progress," Mariners minor-league director Pedro Grifol said at the time. "We will continue to move forward to make him the best second baseman he can be."
Naturally, that's Ackley's goal, too.
Ackley continues to spend extra time fielding ground balls, learning the proper angles and knowing where he needs to be positioned when singles turn into doubles and doubles turn into triples. Ackley's also learning the different styles of turning a double play -- the glove work and footwork -- and getting out of harm's way.
"I knew [second base] was going to be a change but I never knew it was going to be that big of a change," Ackley said and smiled.
"It's a big difference, learning all the angles, learning how to take a double play throw from your third baseman, knowing where I need to be on balls to the outfield. Basically, learning any situation. I've come to find out there's a lot of places you need to be and a lot of things you need to learn."
Ackley, who wears jersey No. 55, has always been a quick learner, and he's not intimidated by any challenge.
In his final year at UNC, Ackley batted .417 during the regular season -- then .500 in the College World Series
Last fall, playing against other blue-chip prospects in the Arizona Fall League, Ackley hit .315 with five doubles, a home run and 12 RBI in 20 games.
Ackley played in 10 Cactus League games this spring, going 3-for-19 with one triple and three RBI. He walked twice and struck out just two times, a testament to his ability to put the ball in play.
At the moment, Ackley continues to work and search for his offensive rhythm. He's hitting just .145 in 16 starts, going 0-for-3 with two walks in West Tennessee's 5-0 win over Mobile. Ackley said he hasn't felt entirely comfortable in the batter's box and he also has tried different styles of wooden bats.
"I am seeing the ball good and feel like, at times, I am taking good swings," Ackley explained. "I just don't think my timing is where it needs to be just yet."
While Ackley also mishandled his first ground ball in the game for his third error of the season, he looked sound and confident at second base. Ackley doesn't have a timetable to reach the big leagues, but he wants to be prepared when that opportunity does arrive.
The leap from college baseball to Double-A has been just one of many changes for Ackley the past six months.
"It's a matter of getting out here and continuing to work hard every day," Ackley said. "I feel like it has been a good transition. Every game I've been out there, I am feeling more and more comfortable."