BY John Hickey 03:57PM 03/23/2011

Ackley sent down; will start 2011 at Tacoma

Second baseman will get a chance to hone his game with Rainiers while he waits for an opening on the big league roster.

Second baseman Dustin Ackley will have to wait a bit before he gets a chance to play in the big leagues. / Getty Images

It comes as no great surprise, but second baseman Dustin Ackley will start the season with Triple-A Tacoma.

The Mariners made that official Wednesday when they made five more cuts at their Peoria, AZ., spring training camp.

Ackley, the top Seattle pick in the 2009 draft and the second player taken overall behind Steven Strasburg by the Washington Nationals, was optioned to Tacoma. Catcher Steven Baron, infielder Sean Kazmar, outfielder Gabe Gross and left-handed pitcher Fabio Castro were also assigned to Seattle’s minor league camp.

Ackley’s assignment came 24 hours after manager Eric Wedge said he was going with veteran shortstop Jack Wilson as the club’s second baseman to start the season. Even coming into camp it was likely that Arizona Fall League MVP Ackley wouldn’t start the season with Seattle, but that move solidified it.

Scouts from other clubs like Ackley, but tend to believe he needs another 200-300 at-bats, not only to get his swing right but to get more experience at second base. He was a first baseman/center fielder/DH during his career at North Carolina, where he had three consecutive seasons with a .400-plus batting average.

The Mariners are now in position, should they choose to do so, to move Wilson mid-season to a contender and promote Ackley to the big leagues.

Ackley was the only one of the five players moved out of camp who is on the 40-man roster. Even with four non-roster players moved out, Seattle has 12 non-roster players in camp, and as many as five of those could wind up on the opening day roster.

That means Seattle has some serious roster shifts to make to be able to clear space on the 40-man list and allow the club to promote so many non-roster types. A reasonable guess would have three non-roster pitchers – Chris Ray, Jamey Wright and lefty Royce Ring – in addition to infielder Adam Kennedy and outfielder Ryan Langerhans making the team.

There is currently just one opening on the 40, but more will be created in the coming days. The club’s Rule 5 pickup this winter, Jose Flores, is unlikely to make the team, and that will free up a spot. And lefty reliever Cesar Jimenez has been up-and-down (and injured) with the Mariners for years, but it’s likely he won’t be kept around in 2011, and his spot will be freed up, too.

NOTES: In his first action since suffering a strained groin at the beginning of the Cactus League season, Miguel Olivo got into a minor league game Wednesday. He caught three innings and 60 pitches’ worth of throws from lefty Jason Vargas. … Of the 41 players still in camp (29 roster, 12 non-roster), two are injured pitchers, closer David Aardsma and middle reliever Shawn Kelley, so there are 39 players in the running for 25 jobs with just more than a week before the season starts. … Forbes Magazine valued the Seattle franchise at $449 million in its annual rankings.

Twitter: @JHickey3


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